Wednesday, April 28, 2010
BY MONICA VON DOBENECK [email protected]
Dick Winters never received the Medal of Honor so many of his colleagues thought he deserved.
But now the former commander of Easy Company, who lives in Derry Twp. and was immortalized in the book and HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” might get a monument in his honor near the beaches of Normandy, where he led his men on D-Day.
Documentary filmmaker Tim Gray of Kingston, R.I., is trying to raise $400,000 for the project, which has been approved by Winters and his wife, Ethel. Internationally known sculptor Stephen Spears has produced a design, and former Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, a fan of Dick Winters, will serve as spokesman and narrate the accompanying documentary.
Gray, who has won awards for documentaries, said he has spent a lot of time filming in Normandy during the past five years, including a documentary on the monument Spears erected to memorialize the Navy’s role in D-Day.
“We wanted to do a leadership monument, and I couldn’t think of anybody better than Major Winters,” Gray said.
The sculpture would be a likeness of Winters and include a quote from him, but it is meant to represent all the officers who led their men into combat that day, Gray said.
“There were a lot of men like him in war, but in the end, you need someone to represent the others,” he said.
Schoolchildren in France, Belgium and Holland all know the name Dick Winters, Gray said.
“For him to give his OK to this is very humbling,” Gray said. “This is an awesome responsibility.”
Spears, who is based in Fairhope, Ala., called Winters “the figurehead” for leadership.
“Dick Winters was forced, in the way events occurred, to take command, innovate and motivate to accomplish things greatly against the odds,” he said.
Bill Guarnere of Philadelphia, who fought under Winters, said he thinks the idea of a monument is wonderful.
“If he doesn’t deserve it, who does?” Guarnere asked. “He’s a good man, Dick Winters. Best man I ever messed with. I’d give my life up for him, yes I would.”
Winters was a first lieutenant with E Company, 506th regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, when he and his men parachuted behind enemy lines on June 6, 1944, to take on a German artillery position firing on Utah Beach. They later fought through the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of a death camp at Dachau and through to Hitler’s Eagles Nest at Berchtesgaden.
Winters, 92, is in frail health and no longer gives interviews, but has said that the men were not fighting to save the world, but because they did not want to let down their buddies. They became closer than brothers when faced with overwhelming odds, and developed character under fire, he said.
Since the war, Winters has led a quiet life, raising a family and working in the agricultural feed business. When historian Stephen Ambrose wrote a book about Easy Company, which was later made into the miniseries “Band of Brothers” produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, his life changed dramatically.
He was courted as a speaker all over the world, accepted the Four Freedoms Award from Tom Brokaw, and stood at the podium with President George W. Bush during the 2004 campaign.
Ethel Winters said her husband is still getting fan letters, and Tom Hanks sends ice cream every year on his birthday. Although he was never comfortable with celebrity, he is glad the story of Easy Company has sparked renewed interest in World War II. He liked talking about his experiences to students, she said. One thousand copies of the documentary will be donated to schools in Pennsylvania on behalf of the Winterses.
She called the proposed monument “quite an honor.”
“They’re also planning to give a medal every year to someone now in the 101st Airborne who demonstrates leadership,” she said. “That way, his legacy will be carried on.”
A Medal of Honor would have been “nice, but not necessary,” she said.
Gray said HBO has contributed to the monument, and he has reached out to others interested in Winters’ legacy. It also needs the approval of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Gray and Spears said they hope the monument can be built while Winters is alive. If all goes well, it could be in place by early 2012. They said the mayor and residents of Ste. Marie-du-Mont, the location for the sculpture, are enthusiastic.
“Everyone wants it. It’s exciting,” Spears said.
“This will be there for generations to come,” Gray said.