Major Richard "Dick"
'Dick' Winters, courageous WWII officer portrayed in 'Band of Brothers'
By T. Rees Shapiro Washington Post Staff Writer
Richard "Dick" Winters, 92, a decorated Army officer whose
courageous leadership through some of the fiercest combat of World
War II was featured in the best-selling book and HBO miniseries "Band
of Brothers," died Jan. 2, 2011. He had Parkinson's disease.
The Patriot-News in central Pennsylvania reported that Maj. Winters,
a longtime Hershey resident, died at an assisted-living facility in
Stephen Ambrose's 1992 book "Band of Brothers" followed
the men of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
101st Airborne Division. The group came to be known as Easy
Company. One of Easy Company's officers was Maj. Winters, a charismatic
and compassionate leader who entered Army service as a private and
returned home after World War II as a major.
He and his men jumped into combat on June 6, 1944, above Normandy
and later fought together through Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands
and the Battle of the Bulge. The unit experienced heavy
turnover because of battlefield casualties. One Easy Company
soldier later wrote that among his colleagues, the Purple Heart "was
not a decoration but a badge of office."
Maj. Winters graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941
before enlisting in the Army. He was selected to attend officer
candidates' school, earned a commission in the summer of 1942 and
then - drawn by the promise of extra pay for hazardous duty - volunteered
to join a newly formed paratrooper unit. Of about 500 officers
who volunteered to join the elite unit, only 148 made the cut.
Maj. Winters excelled as an infantry leader and a paratrooper and
became a hallowed figure among his men for his "follow me"
attitude. He received the military's second-highest decoration
for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his actions on D-Day.
That morning, after landing and untangling from his parachute, Maj.
Winters gathered a small group of men for a raid on German cannon
emplacements near Brecourt Manor. Guarded by a platoon of 50
German sentries, the heavily fortified battery had been firing on
Utah Beach, causing significant casualties and slowing the Allied
advance. In their assault of the position, Maj. Winters and
his men killed 15 German soldiers and took 12 as prisoners. At
one point, Maj. Winters noticed a wounded German soldier crawling
toward a machine gun. "I drilled him clear through the
head," Maj. Winters told Ambrose. Maj. Winters and his men destroyed
three German cannons and completed the action with near-textbook efficiency.
Throughout the war, Maj. Winters's leadership skills earned him commendations
and promotions. He served as Easy Company's commander and was
promoted to lead the 506th Regiment's 2nd Battalion, which included
Easy Company. Maj. Winters and his men eventually saw
the end of the European campaign while occupying Adolf Hitler's mountainside
retreat, the Eagle's Nest, nestled in the Alps above Berchtesgaden.
They celebrated by drinking champagne from the Fuhrer's 10,000-bottle
Late in the war, one of Maj. Winters's 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."
Richard Davis Winters was born Jan. 21, 1918, in Lancaster, Pa. His
family's roots in American history reached back to Timothy Winters,
a British immigrant who served in the Revolutionary War and saw action
in the Battle of Yorktown.
Maj. Winters's own war story went untold for nearly a half-century
until the publication of Ambrose's book, which became a national bestseller.
In 2001, a television miniseries adapted from Ambrose's work was released
on HBO. The series, co-produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg,
won six Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.
Toward the end of the war, Maj. Winters turned down the opportunity
to make the Army a career. He returned to the United States and joined
an Army colleague's company, Nixon Nitration Works, in New Jersey.
He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War as a training
For the rest of his career, Maj. Winters owned a farm in rural Pennsylvania
and sold animal nutrition products to animal-feed companies. He married
Ethel Estoppey in 1948 and had two children. He lived the quiet and
peaceful life he'd promised to himself after surviving the war.
One of the most harrowing experiences of his military service came
in late April 1945. The men of Easy Company discovered a German working
camp near Landsberg that was part of the Dachau concentration camp.
Maj. Winters found wheels of cheese piled in a nearby cellar and ordered
that the nourishment be distributed among the inmates. "The
memory of starved, dazed men who dropped their eyes and heads when
we looked at them through the chain-link fence, in the same manner
that a beaten, mistreated dog would cringe, leaves feelings that cannot
be described and will not be forgotten," Maj. Winters wrote of
the experience. "The impact of seeing those people behind that
fence left me saying, only to myself, 'Now I know why I am here.'"
A fiercely private man, Maj. Winters did not want news of his death
made public until after his funeral.