It is unnecessary for me to recall the amazing service record of one Major Richard “Dick” Winters, 101st Airborne, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Perhaps it is enough to display his commendation record:
Distinguished Service Cross
Two Bronze Stars
Presidential Unit Citation
American Defence Service Medal
National Defence Service Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
Croix de Guerre
French Liberation Medal
Belgian World War II Service Medal
Good Conduct Medal
Combat Infantryman Badge
Winters was always a well-regarded figure in the military after his retirement, but he became a minor celebrity in those circles following the release of Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and this was only multiplied following the 2001 television adaptation by HBO, where he was played by Damien Lewis. It is a rare thing, nowadays, for the death of a World War II veteran, even one as distinguished as Winter’s was, to be treated as headline news.
Winters is, simply put, the benchmark for all officers in the United States military today. Brave, but not reckless. Intelligent without overthinking. Friendly without familiarity. A born leader but respectful of the chain of command. A pacifist without hypocrisy. Disciplined without idiocy. Dutiful without obsession. A warrior without the blood craze.
The chapter of Band of Brothers that deals with the famous Brecourt Manor assault is entitled “Follow Me”. It’s a Winters quotation, something he always said to soldiers he was taking into a combat role.
It is the most important aspect of an officer: Can he/she lead? Will soldiers follow them, into the breach?
Winter’s would say “Follow Me” and people would. Into situations like Brecourt Manor, Market Garden, the crossroads assault, Bastogne.
Follow me. It should be the goal of every officer, in any army, to be able to say those words and know that people will be behind you. They would be best served in emulating the fine example of Dick Winters, as a soldier and a leader. War may have changed, but aspects of courage, leadership, professionalism and honour never do.
You see it still today, in the actions of the Winter’s division, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st.
Richard Winters, Major, US Army (1918-2011). Rest In Peace