By BRAD RHEN
A campaign is under way to establish a monument in honor of famed World War II veteran and Hershey resident Dick Winters near where he parachuted into France on D-Day.
Documentary filmmaker Tim Gray of Rhode Island is trying to raise $400,000 for the project, which will also include a documentary that will air on a national cable channel. The statue will be located in Saint Marie-du-Mont, Normandy – the objective of Winters’ unit on D-Day.
Sculptor Stephen Spears of Alabama will design the statue, and although it will depict Winters, it will also honor all Army officers who led soldiers into combat on D-Day, Gray said.
“Major Winters is a very humble man, and the only way really he would accept something like this is if we tried to recognize everybody else as well,” Gray said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s not necessarily a Dick Winters statue. It’s a likeness of him and quote from him, but it represents leadership.”
Winters assumed command of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, shortly after parachuting into France in the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Following D-Day, Easy Company fought across Europe, participating in Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and eventually captured Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Easy Company’s story was made famous by the book “Band of Brothers” by Stephen E. Ambrose and the 10-part HBO miniseries of the same name. The series, which was produced by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks, won two Emmy awards in 2002, including best miniseries.
After the war, Winters lived for many years on a farm near Fredericksburg, where he built a house by hand.
Now 92 and in frail health, Winters no longer gives interviews or makes public appearances.
Lebanon architect Bob Hoffman, a close friend of Winters for many years, said he thinks the project is a great idea.
“I don’t think that we can really express or honor the sacrifices of the people who fought in World War II adequately,” he said.
Hoffman accompanied Winters on a trip to Normandy for the 55th anniversary of D-Day and said he was struck by the reception Winters and other veterans received in England and France.
“The way they were treated by the Europeans was just unbelievable,” Hoffman said. “To this day how they are revered and remembered in that area for what it is they did. Everywhere we went there was a parade and handshaking and tears.”
In conjunction with the monument, which Gray hopes to dedicate in late 2011 or early 2012, Gray will produce a documentary that will focus on Winters’ leadership during World War II. Gray said he has already completed several interviews with surviving Easy Company soldiers for the documentary. He said he will also use a never-before-aired interview with Winters from about two years ago.
“World War II has been a passion of mine since I was about 6 years old,” said Gray, who has also worked as a television news journalist.
Gray said he has spent a lot of time in Normandy over the past five years and has viewed many of the memorials. He said he wanted to establish one similar to the Navy Memorial at Utah Beach.
“We wanted to do a similar monument about leadership,” he said. “We wanted to do this leadership statue, and we wanted it to recognize all the divisions and all the men who fought on D-Day, and we thought that Major Winters would be an honorable choice to represent all the men who took part in the landings and the air drops just prior to the landings. We thought he would be a great representation of what great leadership was.”
Gray said Winters and his wife, Ethel, have given their blessing to the project. He also said the village of Saint Marie-du-Mont is very enthusiastic about, and he plans to go there in June to meet with the mayor and other town officials.
Former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling is the spokesman for the campaign.
Hoffman said he doesn’t talk to Winters as regularly as he once did, but visited Winters about two weeks ago. He said Winters is “still as humble as ever.”
“He would never initiate anything like this,” Hoffman said. “He is somewhat of a reluctant hero, and one of the wonderful things is this notoriety hasn’t changed him. He’s still a strong, straightforward, humble man.”
For more information or to donate money to the monument, visit the website www.timgraymedia.com.
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