Richard ‘Dick’ Winters, who helped inspire the HBO mini-series, ‘Band of Brothers’, died today at the age of 92. Winters commanded Company E, 506th Regiment 101st Airborne Division which leapt into history in the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944. Then Lieutenant Winters took charge that morning as Easy Company’s commanding officer had been killed. Winters, himself, had been wounded. Along with Winters were men whom respected him like William Guarnere, who said “When he (Winters) said Let’s go, he was right in front” and Edward Heffron who said of Winters “He took care of his men, that’s very important.” After World War Two he retired to a quiet life as Dick Winters ran a business selling livestock feed to farmers. News of Winters death was withheld until after the funeral, another sign of his humility and quiet courage.
The HBO mini-series, ‘Band of Brothers’, chronicled the journey which Dick Winters and the men of Easy Company made through World War Two. Following the paratroop drop into Normandy, the unit continued fighting for weeks until finally relieved. Back in England, they were reinforced with replacements for the many whom had died or were wounded. After a series of proposed airborne assaults were cancelled, the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions were deployed once again into battle. Joined by the 1st British Paratroops and the Free-Polish Airborne Brigade, a major operation was launched to liberate Holland and seize vital bridges, including one which crossed the Rhine and led into Germany.
Known as Operation Market-Garden, a ‘carpet’ of airborne soldiers were dropped as far as 60 miles behind enemy lines to seize the bridges. The British 30th Corps would then bust through the German lines with tanks and plenty of heavy artillery. During the operation, Now Captain Dick Winters was promoted to executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment. He still led several attacks personally. While the 101st fought well and secured their objectives, the mission went horribly wrong further up the single, two-lane highway which 30th Corps had to traverse. Delays, traffic jams, and fierce resistance by German panzer units resulted in the most important objective, the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem, to remain in German hands.
But perhaps the most significant battle that Winters and the 101st Airborne fought in was to come in December of 1944 at a small Belgium town called Bastonge. Along with some units of Patton’s 10th Armor Division, the 101st found themselves surrounded when Germany launched a counter-attack on the 16th. For more than a week, the fighting was brutal and the weather bitterly cold. Many of Winter’s men did not have adequate clothing, equipment, or even food and ammunition. At one point, the Germans prodded the 101st’s commander on the scene, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, to surrender. But the ever eloquent McAuliffe responded with a single word, “NUTS!”
By the 23rd of December, the weather conditions began to improve. Allied aircraft, which had been grounded, started flying combat sorties. Waves of P-47 fighter-bombers and other aircraft hammered the Germans relentlessly. For the 101st Airborne troopers trapped in Bastonge, C-47 cargo planes were flying again and dropping badly needed supplies. On December 26th, elements of Patton’s 4th Armor Division broke through the seize and entered Bastonge. But in the minds of Dick Winters and the rest of the 101st, they never needed ‘rescuing’. After all, it’s ‘normal’ for paratroopers to be surrounded by the enemy.
After Bastonge, Winters and the 101st continued to fight, pushing the Germans back from the territory they gained during the ‘Battle of the Bulge’. Not until mid January had the lines been restored after weeks of bitter and deadly combat. As the Allies drove into Germany itself in the spring of 1945, now Major Winters, in command of the 2nd Battalion, continued to see action. For their efforts, Easy Company had the privilege of capturing the Obersalzberg, Hitler’s mountain retreat near Berchtesgaden in Bavaria known as the ‘Eagle’s Nest’.
Retired U.S. Army Major, Richard ‘Dick’ Williams, who’s exploits inspired the HBO mini-series, ‘Band of Brothers’ (based on the Stephen Ambrose book of the same title) died at the age of 92 in rural Pennsylvania on January 2nd. He struggled with Parkinson’s disease for seven years. A struggle not unlike that which he experienced during his youth as commander of Easy Company and the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. His life, his courage, and his quiet, humble personality should be honored and remembered. Men like him are why we are a free people today.