This past January 2, in a quiet and unassuming manner befitting a hero the size of a lion with an ego too small to locate, Major Dick Winters passed away. In so doing, he joined the hundreds of his men who journeyed to Elysium before him.
His passing should serve as a reminder to the Republic that it is men and women like this, willing to sacrifice all and to do so humbly and without expectation of adulation, that make a nation great – if it so honored.
I first came in contact with Winters’ story the way most of us did – through Stephen Ambrose’s telling of the story of Easy Company in his bestseller “Band of Brothers.” Maj. Winters emerged as the indispensable man in that story – the honest, sober leader who understands the men and the mission as well as how to win.
From the many accounts I have read and heard, you would think “follow me” was Maj. Winters trademark line, rather than “hang tough.”Both concepts served him well in his military career. On D-Day then Lt. Winters led an assault on an artillery position that is still considered textbook today. He did so by leading from the front. He risked fire, fought in the worst battles of the European theatre, and all the while had an almost Washington-like ability to ignore the bullets flying around his head and to almost know when to duck them.
The courage this 24 year old showed in the face of the worst horrors I can imagine puts any of the challenges in my life in perspective; his willingness to sacrifice for his country puts me in awe. Band of Brothers, and through it Maj. Winters had a profound impact on me.
I met this genuine hero in 2004, and in Maj. Winters I saw the reflection of the tens of thousands of men like him – men willing to lay down their lives for something greater than themselves. I saw the reflection of my uncle, a man who before he could legally drink a beer was in the jungles of Southeast Asia, serving his country in the manner requested of him. He hardly ever speaks of his service – not out of fear or remorse, but rather out of a sense that it was his duty and not an exercise in self-glorification.
In Maj. Winters stories from the Battle of the Bulge, in that triumph of courage over fear, I heard the echoes of the stories my Grandfather told about World War II, when as a father of 4 with an engineering degree he went to serve his country.
The sacrifices these everyday heroes – and the sacrifices of their families who hardly sleep when they know their loved ones stand in harms way – are a constant thread throughout the stories of the American military from the first days outside Boston to the present.
When I read about men volunteering to go in harms way to protect a comrade, a brother soldier, or even a concept so remote as “our way of life,” I am humbled by the life these sacrifices have enabled for me. My kids live in the safest country on earth by almost any measure; they live in the wealthiest country on earth without argument.
Both of these distinctions are only possible because of the men and women who honorably serve in near anonymity. The United States is fortunate that there are so many examples of people like Maj. Winters in our history – resourceful, strong leaders who put a larger goal ahead of themselves, and in so doing inspired others. There sacrifices live on as long as we honor them – the duty and responsibility we owe to the soldiers from every American generation.
I said earlier that Maj. Winters’ story had a profound impact on me, and it did. It was after that story that I realized that I had a duty to thank every soldier I see. I have raised my children to do the same.
The interactions with these young people over the last decade have only re-enforced my belief that these are the finest members of our society, men and women who “do a job,” but a job that is so much more a calling than a profession.
To a one the people my boys and I have talked to were polite, gracious, and happy to talk. They smile broadly at my boys, and on more than one occasion have given them some memento of the experience – a flag patch, a chance to wear their hat for a minute, a challenge coin.
But most importantly, they are coming to understand what I know for certain:The United States of America has been blessed by providence,with the types of men and women, it takes to secure a nation and to ensure that the blessings of liberty are there for ourselves and our posterity.
God bless them and may God bless Maj. Winters and all of those who came before him and who will carry on his ethos after he is gone; the world is a better place for you.
(Follow Scott Paterno on Rock The Capital.)
Powered by Facebook Comments