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May 23, 2008

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Dick Winters

He is 90 this year, a frail old man gripped by Parkinson's disease. But in 1941, when he went to war, he was a recruiting-poster-handsome 6-footer, a lieutenant in one of the toughest units ever to wear American uniforms--Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment.


He became an officer because he saw incompetent officers and swore that he could do better. He went Airborne because he wanted to be part of an elite unit, with men he could depend on alongside him. But like every man who fought in that war he was a reluctant soldier;  he wanted nothing more than to get the job done and go home.

When his unit shipped to England Winters was billeted with an English family and had a room to himself. In the spare time he had, he locked himself into that room with a book of tactics and turned himself into a soldier--as it turned out, a remarkable one.

He was brave--unfailingly and almost suicidally so. The men of his unit who survived marvel that he lived. He always put his soldiers first. He was always fair. And in combat, he always made the right decisions. In the first action he commanded, his squad took out a German artillery emplacement, doing it with such efficiency that the action is still used at West Point as a model of how to attack a fixed position.

He was given the Distinguished Service Cross, and there are people working today to have it upgraded to the Medal of Honor. But Dick Winters shows no interest; he agrees with the other paratroopers who jumped on Normandy that the real heroes are the men who lie there forever.

When Band of Brothers aired in 2001, Dick Winters became a celebrity. His mail--already considerable--grew to the point where he was unable to answer it. He does not believe that he is a celebrity, or that he deserves fame. He sees himself simply as a soldier who did the best he could and was lucky to emerge from the war alive. He knows that he and Easy Company are only representatives for other men and other units who fought just as hard and suffered just as much, and that it was by sheer chance that he--and they--became famous.

There are men just like Dick Winters wearing the uniform today, but it is not their fate to serve in a war where the sides are clearly drawn and a united country stands behind them. We will probably never know their names, but that does not detract from what they are or what they do for us.

Monday, May 26, is a good time to thank them.



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Dr. Ralph

p.s. He isn't white, if it matters to those who read this blog...

Jim in Mo

Dr. R,
Don't start that crap you don't know what your talking about.

Jim in Mo

I doubt if your 80 yr old friend ever saw 'Nam, to old what good is he? Just for BS.

Dr. Ralph

He said he was the CO almost everywhere he went because the first Lt's always f**ked up quick and died. Told me about waterboarding is for pussies we cut their ears and toungues out before dropping them in wells with grenades... he could probably kick your ass today he still parachutes and works with the 101st airborne. Story tonight was about guarding a helipad on a hill and the VC broke through the perimeter. Had padding wrapped from their knees down to keep quiet. Just like Dave's "Sit Down, Shut Up" blog he said that was the best way to stay alive. Metal on metal noise can be heard fifty yards out and then the whole world explodes. One little sound means the difference between life and death. I know the man, I've seen his medals. FU

Dr. Ralph

Another thing... he said before they even entered a village the Air Force would drop leaflets and tell every woman and child to leave because they were on the way. Hell of a way to fight a war.


Mr Petzal,

I enjoyed this quite a bit, but you made a mistake when you said that he "was given the Distinguished Service Cross". You are not given medals. Even the "thanks for showing up" campaign medals are earned.

You do not "win" them either. It is not a raffle, or a game of any type.

Obviously this is even more true with medals that are earned for valor (Army Commendation Medal w/ V device, Bronze Star w/ V device, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, Medal of Honor).

Saying these things is doing a disservice to all the men and women who have earned them. I hope you will not make this mistake again.

T F Wayne

Col Winters is one of the countless reasons why his generation is called The Greatest Generation. They saved our country and saved this world from dictators and despots. Their spirit and legacy is alive today. I spent 22 months in Vietnam and served with the 1/75 Rangers (ABN). We were pulled out in 1972. We all know how the Vietnam War ended - in disgrace. When I saw Saigon fall in 1975, I said to myself will a time come when this country will not be able to wage a war, much less win that war, nor will an army of volunteers be available to fight that war due to the partisan politicians? The men and women today in uniform deserve great respect and support for not letting political partisans sabotage their efforts to wage a war against terrorism and protect us at home. After 9/11, much like their grandparents, men and women signed up for war. And today many are still fighting that war. I often think that this country is undeserving of such patriotism, such heroism and such sacrifice. Than I think back to The Greatest Generation. As I have taught my sons, Americans have a legacy to never forget the sacrifice of those who have gone before us, and to promise to preserve their accomplishments and protect with our lifeblood the freedoms and way of life they fought for and often died for. Today 1,000 WWII veterans die each day. Soon they will be gone and it will be left to our kids to take up the gauntlet. Are we up to the task? Are you a parent? YOU FLY THE FLAG ON HOLIDAYS? YOU TELL YOUR KIDS WHY ? YOU TAKE YOUR KIDS TO A NATIONAL CEMETERY ON VETERANS DAY? It is a small thing to do so compared to the many thousands who left their families, their friends, their lives to fight this war and to protect us at home....and to the thousands who have come home under the flag. Make this country deserving of their patriotism, heroism and sacrifice. Anybody can put a yellow ribbon magnet on their vehicle and feel good. God Bless America And Those Who Love Her, And To Those In Harms Way, Godspeed ! RLTW

P Linnihan

In 1995, I had the privilege of interviewing LTC Winters about his actions at the battle for Carentan. He earned the DSC for his actions. He was struck by how humble he was. A true hero and role model for all.

P Linnihan

In 1995, I had the privilege of interviewing LTC Winters about his actions at the battle for Carentan. He earned the DSC for his actions. He was struck by how humble he was. A true hero and role model for all.

Jim in Mo

Another one bites the dust.



I've been spending the holidays with my dad, watching Band of Brothers (my Christmas present to him). I grew up hearing both my grandfather's talking about their war service, both served in the Pacific. I'm amazed at that entire generation, and in awe of the things they lived through.

Thanks for this post, it was inspiring.

Jim in Mo

That entire generation was awesome. While my dad was in Germany my mom worked at the small arms plant (bullets) in St. Louis. Everybody gave and no bitchin'.

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