The late Maj. Richard Winters '41 was "a true leader of men," whose soldiers would follow him into battle without hesitation, even if they knew they were unlikely to come out alive.
The commander of E "Easy" Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division led by example, with humility, and never lost sight of his mission or of his responsibility to those he guided in battle, especially as they descended behind enemy lines on D-Day in Normandy, France, said Dick Hoxworth, a longtime friend of Winters and retired newscaster from WGAL Channel 8.
Hoxworth made the comments to a full house Oct. 18 at Franklin & Marshall College's Barshinger Center for the Musical Arts during the world premiere of a documentary film honoring the life and leadership of Winters, one of F&M's most distinguished alumni. "Dick Winters: Hang Tough," by filmmaker Tim Gray, 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.
"The character of Dick Winters was of the style that comes from within a person," Hoxworth said. "Dick Winters' character allowed him to say, 'Follow me,' and the men of Easy Company followed him into some of the most dangerous times. That's what made him a leader. He had a moral courage that is needed in a time of war."
The documentary, which runs just more than one hour, is narrated by Damian Lewis, who portrayed Winters in HBO's "Band of Brothers." It features never-before-seen interviews with Winters talking about the qualities he developed to become a leader and his relationship with the people of France. It also includes footage from a June dedication ceremony in Normandy for a statue honoring Winters' leadership.
In the film, members of Easy Company recall how they developed unwavering trust in Winters and his abilities as a leader. The French people in the area also continue to revere him and his men, marking D-Day with a ceremony each year.
Winters led a band of 13 men behind enemy lines in Normandy, and 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. He died at age 92 in January 2011.
Those in the audience included faculty, students, staff and alumni, as well as many community members and veterans of war. Also in attendance was 13-year-old Jordan Brown, who raised $100,000 in support of the memorial in Normandy.
Before the film, F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield told the crowd that Winters' legacy lives on at F&M. 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.
"You're at a place that so deeply reveres the continuing memory of Dick Winters," Porterfield said. "This is a chance to be inspired by a great American and a true Diplomat … . Remember, Dick Winters was an 18-year-old freshman on this campus … Right after graduation, his first job was in the Army. Dick is a tremendous example for our students."
Gray, who is chairman of the World War II Foundation in Kingston, R.I., credited F&M for helping to bring about the monument in Normandy -- and the film.
"Without F&M, there would not have been a monument in Normandy or a film," he said. "At its core, this film is about a man who led from the front … He was a leader of soldiers who inspired all of his soldiers to hang tough."
After the film, the crowd gave Gray a standing ovation.
Rick Snyder, quartermaster of VFW Post 1620 in Middletown and a U.S. Marine, was impressed by the film -- and by Winters.
"I knew the story from watching 'Band of Brothers,' but this was phenomenal," he said. "Even though you may have been born with it, you eventually have to develop the skills to lead. Great leadership will inspire."
Sue Hoxworth, Dick Hoxworth's wife, said she was inspired by Winters' story.
"I thought it was outstanding," she said of the film. "I never met Dick Winters myself, but I did meet his wife. They would have been so proud."
The film also was shown at the Penn Cinema IMAX theater in Lititz Thursday night. It will be shown again Sunday, 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.