Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole - Dick Winters' Reflections on His Band of Brothers - Nov 3rd, 2005
Posted on 11/02/2005 10:46:59 PM PST by snippy_about_it
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His Band of Brothers, D-Day and Leadership
Major Richard "Dick" Winters of "Band of Brothers" fame speaks candidly about the men and actions of Easy Company and reflects on D-Day and the lessons he learned about leadership.
After his discharge from the U.S. Army in 1945, Major Richard Winters returned to civilian life. He worked for a while for Nixon Nitration Works, the family firm of his wartime friend Louis Nixon. Following a brief tour of duty during the Korean War, he returned to Hershey, Pa., embarked on a successful business career, raised a family and lived the quiet life he had promised himself after his first day in combat on June 6, 1944. In 1992 this solitude was interrupted with the publication of historian Stephen E. Ambrose's best-selling book Band of Brothers, which brought the World War II story of Dick Winters and Company E, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division -- which he had commanded from Normandy to Berchtesgaden -- to the public's attention. The spotlight intensified exponentially when Hollywood's Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks teamed up to bring Winters' story to tens of millions in the highly acclaimed, Emmy-winning HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. This mass exposure transformed Winters and his comrades into cultural icons for generations far removed from World War II. They have become the embodiment of millions of American servicemen who marched off to war as ordinary men but achieved extraordinary things.
Faced with his newfound fame, Winters seized the opportunity to continue to lead and instill in others the lessons about leadership he learned in the life and death crucible of war. It was Ambrose who, after chronicling Winters' story, impressed upon him that his leadership ethics could inspire all generations.
Major Dick Winters: After Band of Brothers became such an unexpected success, Ambrose wrote me a letter of thanks. In that letter he said, "Thanks for teaching me the duties and responsibilities of a good company commander." Later on, he again acknowledged me in his book on Lewis and Clark. He continued to do this with every book he wrote afterward. I appreciated that recognition, and I appreciated the fact that he never forgot me. I was one of the first people he called when he said that he had sold the book to Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
Ambrose later wrote me another letter and said that in the future, whenever I had an opportunity, I should talk on the subject of leadership. So, as a way to deliver what I believe is an important message, and to honor my friend's request, I speak on this subject whenever I have an opportunity.
Winters' first opportunity to lead came in 1942, when he completed Officer Candidate School and began his journey to Easy Company and war.
When I first joined the Army I took a series of tests to see where I would best fit. I scored high enough that I qualified for Officer Candidate School [OCS]. While I was at OCS at Fort Benning, Ga., I applied for the airborne, a new thing that looked like a challenge. I had always enjoyed sports and physical activity, and there was a certain appeal to being with the best. After graduating from OCS, I reported to Camp Croft, in South Carolina, where I was busy training new men. I had been at this for about 13 weeks when I got orders to report to Camp Toombs in Georgia. On the way to the camp I was pretty unsettled. I took Highway 13, passed a casket factory and reported in at Camp Toombs. There was not much there, and I was assigned to a tar-paper shack. There were no windows in any of the buildings, and the only place with electricity was the latrine. This was rough. But you were expecting to have it rough if you were going to be in the parachute troops.
Training started right away, and there was this Currahee Mountain that we had to run up and down. It was wicked, a real killer. But Currahee was terrific, as it became a test for all the men and officers. Everyone had to run up it -- walk actually, in what we called the "airborne shuffle." It was equal for every man, every officer. Nobody was getting by with a thing. Everybody was being treated the same.
Shortly after Winters' arrival in July 1942, the Georgia camp's name was changed from the ominous Toombs to Toccoa. The new airborne officers were highly selective when it came to picking the men to fill what was to be the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Winters at Toccoa
We looked for the ones who looked like they could take it. When the going got tough, could they stick with it? We also looked for the men who accepted discipline. I already knew discipline is what makes a good soldier. On the runs and the hikes it was discipline that kept the men going. Another thing we looked at was if the individual was accepted by the other men. The men themselves did a lot of the work for the officers by sizing each other up. If someone could not be accepted by his fellow soldiers he was gone right away. The men who were told to leave didn't get to vote or make an appeal. This was not a popularity contest.
At Toccoa, Winters first met Colonel Robert Sink, the legendary commander of the 506th. Sink turned down two promotions during the war to stay with the regiment, an unusual choice given his West Point credentials as a professional soldier.
When I first met Sink I was in awe. He was sitting behind his desk smoking a cigarette. He came across as having this West Point attitude. You know, "You are not any big deal." But I learned pretty quickly that my first impression was wrong. Sink was a terrific leader, and he stuck with the regiment from the beginning to the very end of the war. I often wondered during the war how come this guy is sticking around? Frankly, I thought it was his drinking problem. He had a drinking problem, but it did not affect his leadership of the regiment.
This was his first regiment. And if you look at it through his eyes, and you see these troops coming from civilian life, direct from school, from work, maybe a few of them with a little college, and he is supposed to make a regiment out of this group?
It makes it even tougher when you look at the officers he was assigned -- and I include myself here. Here I am, a year out of college. I go through basic training as a volunteer. I signed up for Officer Candidate School. So a 90-day wonder, and now I am a second lieutenant. And this is the kind of stuff he was assigned and told to turn into a crack airborne unit. He had a heck of a job. To make it worse, he had nothing there at the camp. There were no buildings when he first reported in. He had to build an obstacle course. He had to beg, borrow and steal what he needed. He had to search for men who knew even the basics of their job. Of the cadre that he started with in Toccoa, not one of them was around by the time we got into combat. They were all good enough men, they were just not fit enough to be in the airborne. They came in and were there to teach us, give us basic training and construct the camp, put it together, but not one of them was around by the time we were ready to go to France. Sink did a terrific job from start to finish. He stuck with us throughout the entire war. I respect "Bourbon Bob." He was a good man.
Following Camp Toccoa, Winters and his men continued training at Fort Benning and other camps in the States before shipping out for Aldbourne, England, in September 1943. Winters credits his time in the idyllic English village and his relationships with its residents with truly preparing him for the tasks to come.
On the way over to England, the conditions on the troopship were awful; even the officers were crowded together. We arrived in Aldbourne on a Saturday evening and were immediately made busy getting the men settled and bedded down. All of the officers were crowded together in another building. The next morning, Sunday, I decided to get away from everybody to be by myself for a few minutes. The best place to be alone with your thoughts is in church, so I went to church. It gave me a chance to relax a little bit, get my thoughts together. I didn't pay any attention to the sermon, that wasn't important -- I just needed to be alone. After the service I still wanted to enjoy my solitude. Adjacent to the church there was a small cemetery. I went out of the church and walked up a hill to two small benches, and I sat down. As I looked over the cemetery I could see an elderly couple fussing over a grave. They eventually wandered up the hill and sat beside me.
We were soon engaged in a little conversation, and they invited me for tea. We had been briefed on how to handle our dealing with the English. It had been pointed out to us that they were on very strict rationing and that we shouldn't overdo invitations of this kind and make their problem all the more severe. But I went to tea and had a few visits with them after that. Shortly, it was decided that the officers were too crowded and some should be boarded with families in the town. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes offered to take two officers in, as long as I was one of them. I took Lieutenant Harry Welsh with me. Our quarters were with the family in a room over their store. It was not a big room, and we slept on army cots, but it got us away from the crowds. Now Welsh, he enjoyed going out in the evenings to the pubs, but I preferred to stay at home with the Barneses. In the evenings, as was their custom, shortly before 9 o'clock when the news came on, Mrs. Barnes would come up and knock on my door and say, "Lieutenant Winters, would you like to come down and listen to the news and have a spot of tea?" So naturally I took the opportunity to join them and listen to the news. Afterward Mr. Barnes, who was a lay minister, would lead us in a short prayer. Then we would have a small treat and chat for a while. Then, at 10, Mr. Barnes would announce that it was time for bed. That ritual became so important. I'd found a home away from home.
And, you see, the day I first saw the Barnes couple they had been decorating the grave of their son, who was in the Royal Air Force and had been killed. They adopted me and made me part of the family. This helped me prepare mentally for what I was about to face. As I look back on the months before the invasion, my stay with the Barnes family was so important. They were giving me the best treatment they could; they gave me a home, which was so important for my maturing.
While his time with the Barnes family afforded him an opportunity for calm and reflection, the days after his transfer to the marshaling area at Uppottery, England, were filled with final preparations for the impending invasion of Normandy.
They would take groups of us into tents in the marshaling areas to brief us and show us sand table models of the area where we were going to be jumping. When I went into the tent, a staff officer instructed us to memorize everything we saw -- the roads, bridges, trenches, everything. It was all very impressive, but you can only take so much of this. Frankly, I didn't let myself get carried away trying to memorize every cockeyed thing, because the big thing in life, not only in making a jump into Normandy, is that you have got to be able to think on your feet. That's what we had to do, and that's what we did. You've got to be able to think on your feet throughout your life. You have to do it every day.
The miniseries depicts a moment in the marshaling area at Uppottery when Winters disciplines Lieutenant Lynn "Buck" Compton, a fellow officer and close friend.
Compton had been with the company for six months, and I liked him very much. One problem, however, was that he had gotten into the habit of gambling with some of the men in the marshaling area. That is why I reprimanded him. It is a poor policy, and it puts him in the position, the embarrassing position, that if he wins, he must take from the men. He had taken from the men already. The point I was trying to make is that you have to be prepared to give to the people you lead. You must give in every way. You must give of your time, and you must be consistent in your treatment of them. You must never take from people you lead. Later, at Brécourt Manor, Compton did a fantastic job leading his men.
In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Winters leapt out into the flak-filled skies over Normandy and landed outside of Ste. Mère-Eglise just after 1 o'clock in the morning. After a harrowing night, he managed to collect a handful of men from Easy Company and bring them to Le Grand-Chemin, from where he led the attack on a battery of four German guns at Brécourt Manor -- guns that lay at the end of crucial Causeway No. 2, and that the 4th Infantry Division needed to get off Utah Beach. Of all Winters' actions in France, the destruction of German guns positioned at Brécourt Manor, raining down fire on the Americans struggling off Utah Beach, has been the most often cited. Professors at West Point have used this action as a lesson on the proper method of carrying out a small-unit attack. Chillingly depicted in the HBO miniseries, this daring assault is credited with saving many lives and expediting the advance of American forces inland on D-Day.
After roaming around at the tail end of another column for most of the evening, I finally stumbled into Le Grand-Chemin, where the 2nd Battalion was gathering. At the time, E Company consisted of just 13 men. As I was sitting there with my men, an officer came back and said, "Winters, they want you up front!" When I got there, Captain Clarence Hester turns to me and says: "There's fire along that hedgerow there. Take care of it." That was it. There was no elaborate plan or briefing. I didn't even know what was on the other side of the hedgerow. All I had were my instructions, and I had to quickly develop a plan from there. And as it turns out, I did. We were able to take out those four German guns with the loss of only one man, Private John Hall, who was killed just in front of me. He was a good man, and his death was hard on me. But the attack leaves good memories. We got the job done. It was only later, much later, that I realized how important knocking out those guns had been to our securing Causeway 2, which became the main causeway for troops coming off Utah Beach.
Years later, I heard from someone who had come up off the beach on that causeway. This guy, a medic, had been following behind some tanks. As they came up from the beach, one of the tanks became disabled. When the driver got out, he stepped on a mine. The medic went out into the field and patched this guy up. Later, after the book came out, this medic wrote me a letter and pointed out that he always wondered why the fire onto Utah Beach had stopped. "Thanks very much," he said. "I couldn't have made it without those guns being knocked out." That medic was a man named Eliot Richardson, who, as it turns out, later became attorney general in the Nixon administration. So we did a little good out there for those troops coming in on D-Day, which makes you feel pretty good.
The qualities of leadership and character "ping". Enjoy.
IMHO, Damian Lewis was cast perfectly as Lt Winters.
Back to workpainting a dang picket fence
LOL. Hi wannabe. It is true, Dick Winters is an remarkable man and Easy Company was lucky to have him lead them.
Band of Brothers was a great production. The reals events were even greater.
I had a couple of good leaders (Flight Chiefs) and some that....well weren't so good (tits on a boar is the phrase that comes to mind)
TSgt Pate great guy BUT there was always that point that you didn't cross. He was in charge and you forgot that at your peril. His favorite saying was "I can't make you do it...but I can make you wish you had."
I can think of a number of other things we could call you. :-)
When we had to put down an adorable 8 year old mix I had I thought I would never be able to get another, it was just too hard.
It's been about 5 years for me, too. He was such a wonderful dog. You can love another though if you have the will to offer yourself up to heartbreak provided the Lord wills that you out-live the dog. They provide so much love and only ask that you give them a home...and a treat now and then. ;-)
You know what 'they' say. It's better to have loved and lost...
Good morning EGC. ((Hugs))
I put it together last night on a whim. I was looking for something else and ran across this and thought it would be an important one to bring to the Foxhole.
Some things you just have to post!
Good morning feather. Sarge is quite the pup!
Ha! Thanks Mayor.
He is in great shape isn't he. I know he's got nearly 40 years on me and I have trouble remembering yesterday!
Winters has a couple co-authored books out I will have to put on my Christmas list.
I agree. I think it's time to watch the mini-series again!
Yep. The mini-series was a good show. It's good they did it honorably unlike most hollywood productions.