On Sunday, America lost one of the heroes of “the greatest generation.” Though his heroism had gone unsung until millions of Americans read or watched Band of Brothers, Major Dick Winters of the 101st Airborne Division stands as an example of what made that generation, and its soldiers, great — the commitment to unity of effort in defending the principles upon which this nation was founded.
Winters’s unit, Easy Company, was part of the 2nd Battalion in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. That regiment trained at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, and the unit took its motto from the mountain every member was forced to run and hike: Currahee, which in Cherokee means, “We Stand Alone, Together.”
We stand alone, each and every one of us. We are all individuals, each with our own separate lives, our own rights, our own strengths and weaknesses. But we do so together. We are each dependent upon one another in a careful ballet, a balancing act in which we have to recognize that the struggle for freedom, while ultimately one for individual rights, is one in which we all engage together.
Winters epitomized this. In one poignant clip from the HBO series, Winters recounts a story in which he was asked by a grandson if he had been a hero during the war. Winters replies, “No, but I served in a company of them.”
This sort of understatement and humility is particularly apropos now, after the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Instead of toward the predictable “blame game,” the tragedy ought to move us in the other direction. Such an attack is an affront to all that we as Americans hold dear: an attack on civil discourse, on public participation, on service. Accusatory generalizations undermine civil discourse, and when civil discourse is undermined, alienation ensues. This destroys the very unity we require to oppose tyranny, from both without and within.
Speaker Boehner might have been channeling Major Winters when he said, quite aptly, “an attack on any public servant is an attack on all.”
Among Dick Winters and the heroes of Easy Company, whatever political ideologies they may have held as individuals were pushed aside in the face of an assault on American freedom. If we honor what they fought and died for, we must honor “Currahee” and stand together as one nation.
— Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty, a Washington, D.C.–based advocacy organization.