“You are to me the greatest soldier I could ever hope to meet…I would follow you into hell.” - Sergeant Floyd Talbert in a letter to Major Winters.
Anyone who has seen HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers already knows about Major Richard D. Winters. So I don’t need to spend much time telling you about how he was the commander and leader of one of the most skilled and effective fighting forces in all of WWII: The 101st Airborne’s E-Company.
You already know about how his fearlessness and tactical skills on the battlefield were second to none, even if his modesty would never allow him to admit as much. He received a myriad of medals and decorations during his service, including the Distinguished Service Cross (The Army’s second highest honor). Winters was very much respected and adored by the men he served with during the war, and as a company that saw a revolving door of incompetent COs for much of their tour, Winters was their constant rock; the beacon that guided the men throughout some of the most brutal campaigns.
A mild mannered soul, who very rarely ever drank or cursed, Winters retired from the military after the war ended. After serving as an instructor during the Korean War, he settled down on a Pennsylvania farm, where he lived until his death in January 2nd, 2011. Even then, he requested an unannounced, private service, so quiet that not even William “Wild Bill” Guarnere knew of Winters’ death until phoned. Upon his passing, all of his World War II documents, GI souvenirs and photographs were donated to the Hersey Historical Society.
All of those who knew Winters counted themselves lucky to have had him in their lives. These sentiments of the men who served beside and under him are perhaps best expressed in the words of Sgt. Robert “Burr” Smith in a letter written to Winters:
“I’ve been a soldier most of my adult life. In that time I’ve met only a handful of great soldiers, and of that handful only half or less come from my WWII experience…The rest of us were O.K.…good soldiers by-and-large, and a few were better than average, but I know as much about ‘Grace Under Pressure’ as most men, and a lot more about it then some. You had it.”