On an overcast June 6 morning reminiscent of D-Day in 1944, the World War II Foundation memorialized the leadership of one of Franklin & Marshall College’s most distinguished alumni, the late Maj. Richard Winters ’41, with the unveiling of the Richard D. Winters Leadership Monument in Normandy.
The 12-foot bronze statue, designed in a likeness of Winters in battle stance, overlooks the site of the famous World War II battle at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont that helped turn the tide of the war against Germany. The monument recognizes the leadership of Winters and men of all American Army divisions and corps during the Normandy phase of Operation Overlord.
In France for the monument’s dedication ceremony, F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield told the crowd of approximately 1,000 that Winters “graduated from Franklin & Marshall prepared to lead other young Americans into the most extraordinary work any of us living today could ever hope to do.
“Together, the Easy Company and all who sacrificed in World War II showed the world that America shares democracy and that, in the name of civilization, good must confront evil,” Porterfield said. “Dick Winters was remarkable, and he was representative. He was one man, and he was every man.”
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 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.
Winters, who died Jan. 2, 2011, at the age of 92, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from F&M in absentia in 2009.
To celebrate Winters’ leadership, Porterfield announced in Normandy the creation of the Maj. Dick Winters ’41 Award for Perseverance & Leadership at F&M. The award will recognize F&M students who demonstrate the greatest determination and strengths of character.
“We who teach know that the talented students before us will face lifelong challenges harder than any exams we can design,” Porterfield said. “Some tests can be predicted, but most come unannounced. In preserving Major Winters’ story, we give this and all generations the timeless lesson F&M gave him: ‘Go out every day and do the best you can in all you try.’”
Porterfield’s full remarks from Normandy are available online.
The independent public broadcasting station WITF radio is reporting from France as part of its Hang Tough: Dick Winters in Normandy project. WITF’s coverage includes blog entries from 13-year-old Jordan Brown of Lebanon, who attended the ceremony in Normandy after raising more than $99,000 toward the statue’s production through the sale of “Hang Tough” wristbands to people around the world.
The ceremony in Normandy was the culmination of a project launched and directed by Tim Gray, chairman of the World War II Foundation. When the foundation approached Winters in 2009 to ask if it could design a statue in Winters’ likeness, the major agreed on the condition that the monument recognize all members of the American army division who served.
Through the stories of World War II and Normandy, “we can learn about what it’s like to sacrifice for your country and defend freedom,” Gray said on WITF Radio’s “SmartTalk” on June 1.
“It’s hard to get a handle on World War II because so much happened in so many different places, but the defining thing is coming together and working as a team and sacrificing for something other than yourself. These men did that for their nation,” Gray said.
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 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, who died in April 2012, typed up notes for Ambrose to use in preparation for the book.
The Richard D. Winters Leadership Monument, designed by renowned sculptor Stephen Spears, features the words “Leadership 6-6-1944” and a quote from Maj. Winters that reads: “Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men.”