Richard Winters

Richard D. Winters (born January 21, 1918) is a former United States Army officer who commanded Company "E" ("Easy Company" was its respective designation in the military alphabet at the time) of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne Division during the Second World War. Winters was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Damian Lewis.


Early life

Winters was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and grew up in nearby Ephrata. He graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941 with a degree in business; while in college, Winters painted electrical towers for extra money. In his autobiography Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, he is shown on top of one of the towers.

During WWII


Winters enlisted in the Army in 1941 in order to shorten his time in service. Upon graduation from basic training, he was selected to attend Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was there that he met his friend Lewis Nixon, with whom he would spend the duration of the war in the 101st Airborne Division, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduation. Winters then volunteered for paratrooper training at Camp Toccoa in northeastern Georgia, and was an original member of Company "E" ("Easy Company") of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, initially serving as a platoon leader. During his training at Camp Toccoa, Winters was appointed Company Executive Officer (XO) and received a promotion to first lieutenant while under the company's original commander, Captain Herbert Sobel.

After the 101st Airborne Division was deployed to England in September 1943, simmering grievances of the Easy Company NCOs erupted into what Winters later called a "mutiny." Captain Sobel was replaced as the commanding officer (CO) of Easy Company by First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan III shortly before the Normandy invasion. However, at approximately 1:15 a.m. on June 6, 1944, the C-47 Skytrain transport carrying Meehan and the headquarters section of Easy Company was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, killing everyone on board.

Winters also jumped that night and landed near Sainte-Mère-Église. Having lost his weapon during the drop, he was able to orient himself to his surroundings, collect several paratroopers including members of the 82nd Airborne, and proceed toward the unit's assigned objective near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. Without knowing the fate of Lieutenant Meehan, Winters became the de facto CO of Easy Company, and remained in that position for the duration of the Normandy campaign.

Later that day, Winters led an attack that destroyed a battery of German 105 mm howitzers which were firing onto the causeways that served as the principal exits from Utah Beach. The guns were defended by approximately one platoon of German troops while Winters had only thirteen men. The attack took place south of the village of Le Grand-Chemin, and is often referred to as the Brécourt Manor Assault. In addition to destroying the battery Winters also obtained a map detailing all German defenses in the Utah Beach area. This attack is still taught at the military academy at West Point.

Winters was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions at Brécourt Manor, but the recommendation was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army's second highest award for combat valor, due to the policy of only one Medal of Honor awarded per division (Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Cole was the 101st Airborne Division soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for the Normandy Campaign). After the release of the Band of Brothers television miniseries, a letter-writing campaign to have Winters awarded the Medal of Honor retroactively was started, but legislation to enact this has yet to emerge from the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

During Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands in September 1944, Winters became the XO of the 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR. Although this position was normally a major's billet, Winters filled it whilst still a captain. During the campaign in Holland, Captain Winters led a successful attack with 20 members of Easy Company against a force of 200 German soldiers.

On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a counter-offensive against the Allies in Belgium. After the 101st Airborne was moved by truck to the Bastogne area on December 18, Captain Winters (as 2nd Battalion XO) and Easy Company held the line northeast of Bastogne near the town of Foy during what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The entire 101st Airborne and elements of the 10th Armored Division held off several elite German divisions for nearly a week before elements of the U.S. Third Army broke through the German lines surrounding Bastogne. After being relieved, Easy Company then led an attack on the town of Foy during which Winters ordered Ronald Speirs to relieve Easy Company's inept commander, Norman Dike. After the assault on Foy, 2nd battalion's CO, Lt. Colonel Strayer was elevated to the Regimental staff, and Winters was made acting CO of 2nd battalion. He was promoted to major following the Battle of the Bulge, holding this rank through the end of the war. He remained in Europe until October/November 1945.

After WWII

Following the war, Winters worked briefly for his close wartime friend Lewis Nixon at Nixon's family business, Nixon Nitration Works, before being reactivated during the Korean War to train infantrymen and Rangers with the U.S. Army.

After his second period of military service, Winters went into business for himself, selling animal feed products to farmers throughout Pennsylvania. He and his wife Ethel bought a small farm where Winters built their farmhouse stone-by-stone and raised two children.

Retiring to Hershey, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, Winters would become an icon of "The Greatest Generation" through exposure from Stephen Ambrose's 1992 book Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, based on the book.

Winters was the subject of the book Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers, written by Larry Alexander and published in 2005. Winters's own memoir, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, co-written by military historian and retired U.S. Army Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, was published in early 2006.

One of the most popular quotes from Winters came from the end of "Band of Brothers". When interviewed, he made the statement: "I cherish the memory of something my grandson said to me the other day. He asked me, 'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said no. 'But I served in a company of heroes.'"

Medals and Decorations


  • Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 0-7434-6411-7
  • D-Day, June 6, 1944, The Battle For The Normandy Beaches, Steven Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 1994. ISBN 0-7434-4974-6
  • Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, Major Dick Winters (with Cole C. Kingseed), Berkley Hardcover, 2006. ISBN 0-425-20813-3
  • Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers, Larry Alexander, NAL Hardcover, 2005, ISBN 0-451-21510-9

External links

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