By Anna Chiaradonna || Contributing Writer
As Veteran’s Day approaches, it is imperative that the Franklin and Marshall community honors those who have faced tremendous peril to preserve the security of the United States. One undemanding way we can do this is to simply recognize the alumni who have made these altruistic sacrifices. While many graduates have dedicated their time to the defense of the United States, one person sticks out in particular: Richard Winters. At 26 years old, Major Richard “Dick” Winters led the 101st Airborne Division through the blood-soaked battles of the European Theatre. In 2001, Major Winter’s valiance was showcased in the emmy-winning HBO mini-series, “Band of Brothers.”
Born in January of 1918 in New Holland, Pennsylvania, Major Winters graduated from Franklin and Marshall College with a bachelor’s degree in economics in August of 1941. Weeks after he received his diploma, he enlisted. After three years, he was parachuting into France to prepare for the allied invasion of Normandy. Winters would later write in his memoir that he “had no desire to get into the war” but rather joined to avoid being drafted at a later time. After completing basic training at Camp Croft in South Carolina, Major Winters was selected to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Fort Benning, Georgia, four months after the United States entered World War II. Following his graduation from OCS in July of 1942, Major Winters was commissioned as Second Lieutenant and received orders to join Company E (Easy Company) 2nd Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. He later was promoted to First Lieutenant in October of 1942. Within a year, Winters and his men were deployed to England to prepare for the allied invasion of Normandy, France.
At 1 AM on June 6, 1944 Winters and his men dropped into Normandy under the shield of night. When they reached the ground, Winter’s men informed him that German artillery shot down the entire headquarters of Easy Company, including their commanding officer. As First Lieutenant with Allied forces hours away from landing on Utah Beach, Winters took charge of the company. He later recalled that “when I saw others next to me get hit just because they lifted their head up at the wrong time, I knew I could be killed, too. My dear God, if I live through this, all I want is peace and quiet.” Alone, Winters directed his 13 men to attack 50 German soldiers who were firing artillery at primary exits along Utah Beach. This attack, known as the Brécourt Manor Assault, has been taught at West Point for decades. Winter’s bravery and leadership during the Normandy Invasion led to his promotion to Captain, the commander of Easy Company.
Winter’s next remarkable display of bravery occurred in September of 1944 when he led Easy Company’s jump into Holland for Operation Market-Garden, the largest airborne operation of World War II. The 101st Airborne Division was tasked with capturing a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal. German forces destroyed the bridge before the paratroopers could reach it, thus resulting in the failure of their primary mission. The regiment’s time in Holland continued, however, with Winters and his force routing 300 enemy soldiers. After this battle, Winters was promoted to executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry. His days leading the company had concluded, though he would still be called to the front.
Three months later, Easy Company arrived in Bastogne, Belgium for the Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Offensive. In December of 1944, German forces launched a desperate counter-offensive. For almost a week, the 101st Airborne was under fire from at least 15 German divisions. Major Winters held allied ground near the town of Foy until General Patton’s Third army arrived. After being relieved by Patton, Winters was promoted to Major and moved through the German countryside as the Third Reich collapsed. Enroute to Munich, the men of Easy Company came across a concentration camp in Landsberg. Winters later stated that he would never be able to shake the sight of “starved, dazed men who dropped their eyes and heads when we looked at them.” Richard Winters concluded his time in Europe with the capture of Adolf Hitler’s alpine retreat, known as The Eagles Nest, or Berchesgaden in May of 1945. Two days after the capture of The Eagles Nest, Nazi Germany was forced to capitulate.
Winters remained in Europe during the allied demobilization and even personally accepted the surrender of several German soldiers. In November of 1945, he left Europe from Marseille, France, only to be called to service again during the Korean War. “I had seen enough of war,” Winters wrote in his autobiography, Beyond Band of Brothers. In lieu of active duty, he agreed to report to Fort Dix in New Jersey. Winters rapidly became displeased by the quality of the officers he was training to be battalion commanders. Shortly before he was set to be deployed to Korea on active duty, however, there was a change of orders that permitted him to resign from his commission, an opportunity he took eagerly.
In 1951, Major Winters purchased a farm in Pennsylvania, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, and by 1960 he moved himself and his family there permanently. “Here, I finally felt I had found the peace and quiet that I had promised myself on D-Day,” wrote Winters. He didn’t return to Europe until 1987, when he revisited Normandy and Brécourt Manor. In 2012, a monument was dedicated to Major Winters on the causeway to Utah Beach, making him the only American soldier to be honored this way in Normandy. Major Winters died January 2, 2011 at 92 years old.
Today, Franklin and Marshall honors Major Winters by presenting the Major Dick Winters ‘41 Award. Established by the college in 2013, this award is presented to a student who “has exhibited the strength of character, the quality of perseverance, and the skill of leadership that defined Dick Winters.” Although Richard Winters was said to have always denied this, he was an authentic American hero and should be remembered as such.
Freshman Anna Chiaradonna is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.