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Essay: The Legacy of MAJ Richard Davis “Dick” Winters

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  • Published: 1 October 2019*
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The Legacy of MAJ Richard Davis “Dick” Winters

The intent of this paper is to discuss the legacy of one of the U.S. Army’s most influential combat leaders, MAJ Richard Davis “Dick” Winters. Throughout this paper, the focus will be on the core leader competencies and attributes that he exemplifies, and his lasting effect on the military we know today.  Furthermore, I will also elaborate on how his actions contributed to both my personal and professional growth as a Non-Commissioned Officer.

We tend to associate a few phrases with the word character: discipline, empathy, living the Army values, and embodying the warrior ethos.  In a book co-authored by MAJ Winters himself, he describes character as something that “provides a leader with a moral compass that focuses his efforts on the values we cherish: courage, honesty, selflessness, and respect for our fellow man”.  One instance where MAJ Winters epitomized character took place on a dark night while Easy Company held ground in Haguenau.  His Commanding Officer placed an order for the soldiers to conduct a night raid, a mission that he felt was completely unnecessary.  He showed his compassion towards his men by disobeying the order, and instead, instructing his mean to go get some much-needed rest.  

If there is a trait that MAJ Winters flawlessly embodies, it is his presence both on the battlefield and in the rear.  No matter the situation, he remained the most professional of leaders with a cool, calm, and collected demeanor.  He lived his career by a few mottos, one of which being “Never ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself” (.  After landing outside of St. Mere-Eglise, he found that he lost all his equipment and weapons on the jump and had nothing more than trench knife on his side.  Showing no fear in the situation, and not losing sight of what must happen, he grabbed the first paratrooper in sight and gave him the order “Follow Me!”.  Throughout the night, he found other paratroopers who began to follow him without question.  MAJ Winters, although separated from his own unit, remained collected and highly visible to the men around him giving them the mental strength they needed to get through that night.  

Although having grown up during the Great Depression, He developed a strong work ethic as a child stemming from his heritage and religious affiliation to the Mennonite and Amish backgrounds.  Graduating in 1937 from High School, Winters then decided it was time to buckle down and take his education seriously.  A naturally gifted student in literature, He spent his time divulging in subjects such as poetry, philosophy, ethics, psychology, and a variety of other subjects associated with a liberal education.  In June of 1941, Winters graduated at the top of his class in business school, earning a bachelor’s degree in Science and Economics.  Wasting no time, He then immediately volunteered for service in the U.S. Army.  Prior to the invasion, as his soldiers were enjoying themselves at the local bars, MAJ Winters found himself reading ever tactical manual he could acquire.  He knew that he must educate himself and be proficient in his tactics and techniques for his soldiers to have complete trust in his decision making.  Looking back, I realize that this path was very similar to mine, as I too was very engaged with English and literature as a student.  Immediately after graduating, I found myself at the U.S. Army Recruiting station asking what I could do to not only further my education but also help the service.

If there were any trait that I search for in leaders that played a key role in my career, its confidence, and the ability to build trust with their subordinates.  Throughout my career there are moments I can recall having to assume a leadership role, not knowing what I was facing at that moment.  I did everything I could to ensure my Soldiers never had reason to doubt my decisions during those situations.  During the initial jump into Normandy, MAJ Winters (then just a 1LT) found himself in a similar, though much tougher situation.  Upon landing in Normandy, he had to assume the role of Commander of Easy Company 2/506 PIR after receiving word that his Commander’s plane took fire and crashed.  Soon after, MAJ Winters found himself fearlessly leading a small group of men on an attack against an unknown number of German Soldiers and four 105mm Howitzer guns.  With unparalleled confidence in the abilities of his unit, he spearheaded an attack against upwards of 200 German Soldiers, with only 20 men.  Thanks to his poise, and ability to remain calm under the most demanding circumstances, they were able to defeat an enemy force much greater than themselves.  His efforts played a pivotal role in the Third Army’s movement through enemy lines.

From his time at Camp Toccoa when he joined Easy Company, until the end of the war and beyond, MAJ Winters took every opportunity he could to develop his soldiers.  Though he credits his Commander at the time, Captain Sobel, for providing the foundation of teamwork and discipline, it didn’t stop there.  MAJ Winters ensured that when he assigned tasks, he chose the right man for the job.  Doing this provided each of his Non-Commissioned Officers the opportunity to excel and allowed them to lead their individual squads and platoons how they saw fit.  What we need to understand is that MAJ Winters did what all great leaders should do, instill the standards, and allow your junior leaders and soldiers to develop their own leadership styles that fit their personality.  While in leadership positions, I do my best to relay orders from those appointed over me and allow my junior leaders to complete the task how they see fit.  Doing this can teach you a lot about your subordinates, and often will show you where you need to continue to develop those who may be lacking.

When you talk about MAJ Winters, you undoubtedly will think about his achievements as well.  From his school days to the most important engagements through Bastogne and Haguenau, he strived for excellence in all that he did and because of this, has multiple significant achievements.  As mentioned earlier, he graduated in high academic standing with a degree in economics.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private and wasted no time earning a commission as a Lieutenant.  It didn’t take long from there for him to prove himself and earn his way through the ranks to Major.  However, his greatest achievement from a leader’s perspective is the lasting effect he had on the lives of the men who served with him.

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