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Richard D. Winters ’41, American Hero, Passes Away

Richard D. Winters '41, whose leadership, bravery and strategic prowess in World War II were recounted in the book and television miniseries Band of Brothers, passed away on Jan. 2. He was 92.

  • Dick Winters '41
  • Dick Winters '41 talks about his time in Normandy, France, during a 2003 interview. Winters is the subject of a documentary film to premiere at F&M Oct. 18. (Photo by Dan Marschka, Lancaster Newspapers)

As commander of E "Easy" Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Winters led a band of 13 men behind enemy lines in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. He and his men destroyed a battery of German artillery that had been firing on Utah Beach, making it easier for Allied forces to move inland. For his courage, he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army's second-highest award for valor. The attack is taught to this day at the military academy at West Point.

In a story in Franklin & Marshall Magazine in 2003, Winters talked about his definition of leadership. "It's something you have within you that gets the job done," said Winters, who graduated from F&M with a degree in business. "You start with a cornerstone—honesty—and from there you build character, you build knowledge. With honesty goes being fair, making decisions, and being right, most of the time."

Winters rose in rank to captain after the battle at Normandy. After the 101st Airborne defended Bastogne, Belgium, in the Battle of the Bulge, Winters rose to the rank of major and earned command of the 2nd Battalion. In the final days of the war, Easy Company captured Hitler's Eagles Nest, the famous teahouse on the summit of a mountain in the Bavarian Alps.

After the war, Winters worked as personnel manager for Nixon Nitration Works in New Jersey. He was re-activated during the Korean War to train infantrymen and Rangers with the U.S. Army. After his second tour of military service, he sold animal feed to farmers across his native Pennsylvania.

Winters gained national exposure from Band of Brothers, a 1992 book by Stephen Ambrose, and an HBO miniseries based on the book that followed in 2001. The story chronicles Winters' leadership during war, and is based in part on diaries Winters kept during his time in service. Winters and his wife, Ethel, typed up notes for Ambrose to use in preparation for the book.

Winters sent the complete copy of his diaries to actor Tom Hanks, who co-produced the HBO miniseries with Steven Spielberg. "You send me golden nuggets," Hanks replied. After learning that Winters enjoyed ice cream, Hanks sent Winters four half-gallon containers of ice cream from a famous Oklahoma City manufacturer every year for his birthday.

Following the success of Band of Brothers, Winters became a symbol of "The Greatest Generation." He was the subject of the book Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers, published in 2005. Winters' own memoir, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, was published in 2006.

Winters and his wife raised two children and eventually retired in Hershey, Pa. Winters received the Alumni Citation from Franklin & Marshall in 2003 and an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the College in 2009. In 2001, he was one of five World War II veterans to receive the 2001 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms/Freedom from Fear Award.

For more coverage of the life of Richard D. Winters, visit the following news links:

  • Dick Winters '41
  • Capt. Winters July 14, 1944 after returning to England from Normandy.