When people talk of the soldiers of World War II as "the greatest generation," they are thinking of people like Major Dick Winters, a lifelong Pennsylvanian who died recently near his longtime home in the vicinity of Hershey. He was 92, and had been the World War II era commander of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Although he did co-author a book on his wartime experiences with another officer, it is highly unlikely we would know much about him and the role he and his men played in the last days of the war without the late historian Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose's discovery of the Winters story led to its being featured in the outstanding television series "Band of Brothers".
Otherwise, Major Winters might have remained anonymous to all except those who served with him, as no doubt has happened to many other heroes.
That is, in part, because of the nature of these very special people. Tom Brokaw described Winters as "the quintessential American infantry officer--brave, canny, and modest." And such people are not likely to feel a need to have fanfares sounded upon their approach. They concentrate on doing their job.
Winters' job unfolded itself in heavily trafficked areas, like Utah Beach on D-Day. No sooner had he and his men been dropped on the Normandy beachhead than they were given a big assignment: take out a battery of four 105mm. German howitzers that were raking Allied troops. This could be easier said than done, since Easy Company had experienced a very bad landing. It was scattered, and the company commander and first sergeant had been lost.
Taking charge, Winters rounded up about a dozen men. This small force proved adequate to the job of putting the German howitzers out of commission.
As Easy Company slogged across Europe Major Winters continued to win the respect and admiration of his men for his up-front command style. At least one of his soldiers expressed amazement that the Major survived the war, and the same astonishment no doubt was present in the minds of other members of Easy Company.
The company was caught up in the Battle of the Bulge, and later took part in a nightmare many of the soldiers must have remembered forever: the liberation of the infamous concentration camp Dachau. Later on Winters and his men captured Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.
During all this action, Winters inevitably collected quite an assortment of medals and ribbons, of which the top ones were the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star with One Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart. He was even nominated for the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor, the premier medal for service in the American military. Even the exploit of the four German howitzers should have qualified him; but for whatever reason he didn't receive the medal.
It is sad that he can now never receive it in person--but I believe the Medal of Honor is often given posthumously. If this is so, we can still help Major Winters here. We can write to our Senators and Representative and request that the case be re-opened and the award be made. Pennsylvanians can obviously do this; but so, too, can other U.S. citizens. All they need to do is write to their own Members of Congress.
Let's see if we can help get anything going here.