A documentary film honoring the life and leadership of one of Franklin & Marshall College's most distinguished alumni, the late Maj. Richard Winters '41, will make its world premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at F&M's Barshinger Center for the Musical Arts.
"Dick Winters: Hang Tough" celebrates the accomplishments of Winters—whose story was the inspiration for the Stephen Ambrose book and the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers"—and other servicemen who risked or sacrificed their lives on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France. The film includes never-before-seen interviews with Winters, talking about the qualities he developed to become a leader, and his relationship with the people of France.
"We couldn't think of a better leader to honor," said filmmaker Tim Gray, chairman of the World War II Foundation in Kingston, R.I. "Dick Winters led men from the front. He combined leadership qualities with concern for the well-being of his troops. His troops would tell you he's a guy that they would have followed into hell, because they realized if they followed him, they would have a chance to live."
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. He and his men destroyed a battery of German artillery that had been firing on Utah Beach, clearing the way for Allied forces to move inland. Winters received the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army's second-highest award for valor, for his actions.
The documentary, which runs just more than one hour, is narrated by Damian Lewis, who portrayed Winters in HBO's "Band of Brothers." Both Gray and F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield will speak at the premiere. Dick Hoxworth, a retired broadcaster from local NBC affiliate WGAL, will be the emcee.
Gray was inspired to make the documentary after spending time in Normandy with those who knew Winters personally, before the World War II hero died at age 92 in January 2011. Having the premiere at F&M was "a natural," Gray said.
"We wanted to debut this film in a place that was important to Dick," Gray said. "F&M was important to shaping who he was."
In a recent speech honoring Winters' legacy, Porterfield said Winters' life story offers insight and inspiration to all who hear it, noting that Winters developed leadership skills through his education and "consistently lived his life with virtues worthy of emulating."
"Maj. Winters triumphed with honor, not simply because he was brave and strong, but also because he was smart and mentally prepared," Porterfield said. "His liberal arts education at F&M played a defining role. It contributed to his ability to evaluate options based on limited information, to intuit the motives and fears that drive others, to make ethical decisions under duress, to value the keeping of a daily journal, even in war, and to be an adaptive leader in dire situations."
The World War II Foundation honored Winters in June with the unveiling of the Richard D. Winters Leadership Monument in Normandy. The statue, a likeness of Winters in battle stance, was erected near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, the site of one of the more famous World War II battles on D-Day, which Winters led and was made famous in "Band of Brothers." The monument recognizes the leadership of all American Army divisions and corps during the Normandy phase of Operation Overlord on D-Day.
During the dedication ceremony in France, Porterfield announced the creation of the Maj. Dick Winters '41 Award for Perseverance & Leadership at F&M. The yearly prize will recognize F&M students who demonstrate the greatest leadership, determination and strength of character. HBO provided $10,000 to fund the endowed prize, allowing the College to award one student each year a modest monetary prize in perpetuity.
The event at F&M is free, but tickets are required, as seating will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets are available at the Roschel Box Office, noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; by phone at 717-358-7193; or online. A will-call table will be open at Barshinger for ticket pickup beginning at 6 p.m. the night of the film.
Additional screenings are scheduled for Oct. 18 at Penn Cinema IMAX theater in Lititz and Oct. 21 at the Allen Theatre in Annville. Half of the proceeds from those showings will go to the Richard Winters Leadership Project, which is separate from the F&M award, and to the World War II Foundation.