Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Stand Easy Major Winters 1912-2011

Winters during WWII
One of my favourite TV experiences of the past decade would have to be the HBO/BBC production of Band of Brothers which follows the real heroics of Company E 'Easy Company' of 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the US Army.

At the start of each episode there were vox pops of veterans, not just any veterans though, these were the ones that were depicted on the screen. Included in those veterans was Richard 'Dick' Winters who rose from being a platoon commander though to command of the 2nd Battalion.

Along with his men Winters parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, 6 June, 1944 landing near Sainte-Mère-Église not aware that First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan III, the commander of Easy Company had perished when his plane was shot down. He gathered the paratroopers in his area including some members of the 82nd Airborne to proceed towards their objective for the day near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont.

Later that day with just 13 men under his command he came upon a battery position manned by 50 Germans at Brécourt Manor. They were firing 105mm Howitzers down unto the causeways that were the primary exit routes from Utah Beach. Some assaults are talked of as being text book but the one led by Winters (dramatised below from Band of Brothers) is still taught as West Point as an example of how to take a fixed position.

He was recommended for the USA's highest award for bravery The Medal of Honor for his action at Brécourt Manor, but because of a rationing of awards, only one Medal of Hounor per division was allowed and this had already been awarded to Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Cole for a bayonet charge near Carentan five days later on 11 June. Therefore on 2 June 1944, the day after he was promoted to Captain he was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross the second highest honour.

The War carried on and Winters with Easy Company was involved in Operation Market Garden in September 1944. When a patrol of four of his men came back injured having seen a large group of Germans 1200 metres away from the Company's position, Winters himself led a squad to reconnoiter the situation, they came across a gun postion firing towards the Battallion HQ. Having taken the position with his squad Winters came under fire from a gun position opposite and estimated the strength of the enemy to be of Platoon strength called up reinforcement from the rest of the 1st Platoon. It was discovered the strength of the enemy was in total 300 men.

From December through January 1945 took part in the Battle of the Bulge holding the line near the town of Foy northeast of Bastogne. The last action his men saw in the war was the capture of Berchtesgaden on 5 May, this was the town above which lay Hitler's Kehlsteinhaus or 'Eagle's Nest'. Three days later the war in Europe ended.

At the ceasation of hostilities Winters had enough points to be repatriated to the states but he stayed on as he was need to help with the the process of occupation and demobilization. Though he was discharged in 1946 he was called up for active service in 1951 at the start of the Korean War, and given six months to report. He used that time to head to Washington, D.C. to persuade General Tony McAuliffe that he had seen enough war and not to be sent to the war zone. McAuliffe understood this position but needed his experience and therefore Winters was assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey, as a regimental planning and training officer.

In his last years he was suffering from Parkinson's disease but through Damian Lewis's portrayal of his part in Easy Company's war he will be remembered.

Let's not forget the rest the rest of those who served or are serving for our freedom. But Major Richard Winters, you can now stand down from your patrol on this earth. Rest well and stand Easy.

Major Richard 'Dick' Winters Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star (with Oak Leaf), Purple Heart 
21 January 1918 - 8 January 2011

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