Every American should know his name and his story. And, thanks to a great book by Stephen Ambrose — Band of Brothers — and an equally great HBO television series, many do. What millions of Americans don’t know is that Richard “Dick” Winters died on January 2 at the age of 92.
“Son, that is what you call a soldier’s soldier,” my dad, an Air Force man, told me after the epic series ended. And you know how charitable Air Force men are about Army men.
The Washington Post didn’t report his death until January 9, and relegated the story to the obituary pages, rather than featuring a lengthy celebration on page one — which is what Winters’s life demanded. Indeed, we heard very little from the media about this great man’s death, largely because so few in the media actually cared about his life.
If Cher had died, we’d have heard endless stories within hours, with Diane Sawyer, Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and Piers Morgan all fighting desperately to get the exclusive with Chaz.
Our media is bad, but our schools are worse. Our kids are peddled Earth Day celebrations, and cancer-awareness, drug-awareness, even clean-colon-awareness days. They get sex instruction, diversity seminars, and global-warming tutorials from Al Gore, but Veterans Day, and the stories of men like Maj. Dick Winters — well, that’s just not stuff with which we should be pestering our kids.
Major Winters, a longtime resident of Hershey, Pa., died at an assisted-living facility in nearby Campbelltown. But it is his life that we should all know, and the lives of the men he fought with.
Band of Brothers chronicled the men of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The group came to be known as “Easy Company,” but there was nothing easy about their tour of duty. That brave band of warriors jumped into combat in June 1944, starting near the beaches of France. They fought their way through Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and the Battle of the Bulge, all the way to Hitler’s retreat — the Eagle’s Nest — tucked in the Alps above Berchtesgaden.
It was some of the toughest fighting in the European Theater. As a result of high battlefield casualties, the unit experienced heavy turnover. One Easy Company soldier later wrote that among his colleagues, the Purple Heart “was not a decoration but a badge of office.”
One of Easy Company’s very best officers was Maj. Dick Winters. He was the kind of guy anyone would wish to call their boss. Late in the war, one of his soldiers, Floyd Talbert, wrote him a letter from an Indiana hospital, thanking him for his loyalty and leadership. “You are loved and will never be forgotten by any soldier that ever served under you,” Talbert wrote. “I would follow you into hell.”