Jordan Brown, 11, a fourth-grader at South Lebanon Elementary School, wears his “Hang Tough” wristbands, at his home in South Lebanon Township.
With all their texting, tweeting and Internet surfing, today’s kids might be the right-now generation.
Who among them has time for what some call the greatest generation?
Jordan Brown, for one.
An 11-year-old from Lebanon County, he has long been fascinated by World War II and one old soldier in particular — Dick Winters, the Easy Company commander made famous by the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.”
Mr. Winters, a Lancaster native who lives in Hershey, is 92 and has Parkinson’s disease.
But a statue of him is going up in France, and Jordan has taken it upon himself to raise money for it by selling $1 rubber wristbands in the tradition of Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Live Strong” bracelets.
These wristbands are olive green, the color of U.S. Army uniforms, and say “Hang Tough,” which is what Mr. Winters told his men in combat in Europe. In later years, that phrase became his motto.
Jordan has raised $21,000 since he started selling bands in May and says his goal is $100,000. The monument in Normandy is expected to cost about twice that.
“We need to thank these heroes before it’s too late,” Jordan said.
Robert Hoffman, a Lebanon architect and close friend of Mr. Winters’ who has traveled with him for ceremonies honoring his World War II exploits, said it’s heartening to see such a youngster pay homage to a man from another generation.
“I think it’s awesome for someone his age to do this,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal bridge from one generation to another.”
Mr. Hoffman suggested the olive green color and the “Hang Tough” slogan. The original concept was a red, white and blue design overlaid with the line “Band of Brothers,” but the phrase had been copyrighted.
Jordan has sold about 7,000 Hang Tough bands; the rest of the money he has collected has come from other donations inspired by his project. All of the money goes to the monument fund.
“I think it’s incredible for an 11-year-old to take on a cause like this,” said Tim Gray, a Rhode Island filmmaker who is leading the monument effort and filming a PBS documentary to accompany it. “I’ve just been totally impressed with his dedication and his persistence in honoring his hero. When you’re a kid, you believe in heroes. And while Dick Winters would never consider himself one, he was a hero of World War II.”
On that, there’s no debate.
Mr. Winters has taken on legendary status because of the television series, but the men who served under him say his reputation is deserved because he was the consummate combat leader. He also had the personal touch. After the war, he made a point to keep in contact with his old unit members, sending them regular letters and cards until recent years when his health began to fail.
He never forgot them, and they never forgot him.
“He was a good man for the guys,” said another company vet, Ed Joint, 87, of Millcreek outside Erie. “He didn’t think he was better than anyone. A lot of officers did in those days.”
Mr. Winters took over command of Easy Company, part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, shortly after parachuting into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He led his men across France, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest mountaintop retreat in Berchtesgaden, Germany.
The Easy Company story first gained prominence in the 1992 Stephen Ambrose book “Band of Brothers,” then became a cultural touchstone after the 2001 release of the award-winning mini-series produced by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
In the series, Mr. Winters’ character talks of settling down quietly on a farm after the war, and that’s what he did, building a house by hand on farmland near Fredericksburg and living there for many years.
That town is just a few miles from where Jordan lives in South Lebanon Township. So it was only natural that the fourth-grader, a World War II buff who can rattle off the names of battles and generals, came to idolize a hometown icon.
His wristband project started in April, when the local paper wrote a story about the monument and the documentary.
When Jordan’s mother, Yasmin Brown, showed him the newspaper story, he wanted to help. He’d never met Mr. Winters, but he had experience with fundraising, most recently for relief in Haiti. “He said, ‘Mommy, I want to make sure this happens,’ ” said Ms. Brown.
He started thinking of ways to raise money and settled on the bands. At $1 apiece, he figured, kids like him could afford them.
“When he came to me, there was no way I could say no to this,” Ms. Brown said. “There’s so much good in this. It was good on so many levels.”
So she and her husband bought 1,000 wristbands for his birthday, May 5, to get him started. Since then, he has sold thousands and marched in parades, given speeches and appeared in the local papers and on TV.
When the time comes, he plans to travel to France for the dedication of the monument.
There are other memorials at Normandy, many of them paying tribute to specific units, but this one will be the first of its kind.
Sculptor Stephen Spears of Alabama is building the 12-foot statue, a likeness of Mr. Winters with one of his quotes at the base, although the monument is designed to represent all of the men who led soldiers into combat on D-Day. The documentary, which includes an interview of Mr. Winters from four years ago, similarly focuses on leadership and will be narrated by Curt Schilling, a former Major League pitcher and a fan of Mr. Winters.
The monument will be located in Saint Marie-du-Mont, Normandy, which was the objective of Mr. Winters’ unit on D-Day. It is expected to be completed next year.
“We want this to be done while Major Winters is still with us,” he said.
For more information about the fundraising campaign, go to www.hangtough6644.org.
Torsten Ove: [email protected] or 412-263-1510.
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