Leadership Defined



Dick Winters, the former World War II commander whose war story was told in the book and miniseries “Band of Brothers,” died on January 2, 2011 at the age of 92. Dick Winters led a quiet life on his Fredericksburg farm and in his Hershey (PA)  home until the book and miniseries “Band of Brothers” threw him into the international spotlight. Since then, the former World War II commander of Easy Company had received hundreds of requests for interviews and appearances all over the world.  

Winters was always gracious about his new-found celebrity, but never really comfortable with it. He never claimed to be a hero and said that he had nothing to do with the national effort to get him the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.  

When people asked him if he was a hero, he liked to answer the way his World War II buddy, Mike Ranney, did.  

“No,” Ranney said. “But I served in a company of heroes.” That became the tag line for the miniseries.   

In an interview shortly before the miniseries debuted, Winters said the war wasn’t about individual heroics. The men were able to do what they did because they became closer than brothers when faced with overwhelming hardships. They weren’t out to save the world. They hated the blood, carnage, exhaustion and filth of war. But they were horrified at the thought of letting down their buddies.  

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Winters and his troops from Easy Company, 506th regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, parachuted behind enemy lines to take on a German artillery nest on Utah Beach. Winters made himself a promise then that if he lived through the war, all he wanted was peace and quiet. His company fought through the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of a death camp at Dachau and to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.  

The war described in “Band of Brothers” is ugly, but the young men developed character under fire, Winters said. He was glad the miniseries showed war realistically, not either glorified or demonized as in so many movies. He wanted people to understand that success in war depends not on heroics but on bonding, character, getting the job done and “hanging tough,” his lifelong motto. In combat, he wrote 50 years after the war, “your reward for a good job done is that you get the next tough mission.”  

When the war ended, Winters kept his promise to himself. He married Ethel, bought a bucolic farm in Fredericksburg, raised two children and worked in the agricultural feed business. He didn’t talk about the war until the late historian Stephen Ambrose wanted to put Easy Company’s exploits on paper.  

Following the miniseries, Winters turned down most requests for interviews because he said he didn’t want to appear like he was bragging. But he did feel the story of Easy Company was an important one, especially for young people. He was more likely to accept invitations by local school groups and spent time with students at local High School, among others.  

  • People who knew Winters during and after the war said he is exactly what he appears to be.
  • He could lead without ever raising his voice or swearing.
  • His friend Bob Hoffman, a Lebanon architect, said Winters’ eyes could “burn a hole right through you.”
  • The men who served under him and people who only met him later in life call him a hero, no matter what he says.
  • According to the book, one wounded member of Easy Company wrote Winters from a hospital bed in 1945, “I would follow you into hell.”
  • He received a standing ovation from 500 veterans when he spoke at the dedication of the Army’s Military History Institute in Middlesex Township in September. When President Bush was in Hershey, PA in April, he called Winters “a fine example … for those brave souls who now wear our nation’s uniform.” 

Tom Hanks, who co-produced the HBO  series, and from the actor who played Winters in “Band of Brothers.” “When our days run their course and a man like Dick Winters leaves us, time and providence remind us that human beings can do giant things,” Hanks said in a statement. “Dick Winters volunteered to go to war, leading paratroopers into unknown, yet certain, dangers. He led by both command and example; his wartime philosophy was simple — ‘Follow me.” He  died quietly, in private, without fanfare and with the same modesty that he lived his life as one of the true heroes of his generation,” Lewis added.  

Ambrose, the author of “Band of Brothers,” said in a 2001 BBC interview that he hopes young people say. “I want to be like Dick Winters.”  

“Not necessarily as soldiers, but as that kind of leader, that kind of man, with basic honesty and virtue and an understanding of the difference between right and wrong,” Ambrose said.   

Gen. David Petraeus, who has commanded the 101st Airborne Division during his career, said in a statement on this week that “Major Winters embodied the very best of what a leader and soldier should be. He and the men of Easy Company lived the “brotherhood of the close fight.”  

The Company Officer fulfills a mission critical role within the fire service that directly affects personnel and public safety and community accord. The title carries with it the opportunity to ride the “front seat” and be in charge of a company responsible for addressing incident operations and service demands dictated by the company’s function, responsibility and task assignment. (These paragraphs have been assembled from a variety of recent articles celebrating the life of Dick Winters and best conveyed the essence of who that man was. All rights reserved)  

As a practicing, aspiring, or emerging Company or Command Officer, there is much written and much said about Leadership. There are numerous books written on the suject, but sometimes it’s the simple virtues, values and morals that define and exemplify leadership. We have all served or continue to serve in [a] company of heroes. Quietly serving our citizens and the public at large. Think about what defines you and how you are defined within your company, the station, within the department or within your private life. Stop and reflect…. 

  • Recognizing the various avenues available that place a firefighter in transition from a individual contributor to that of a first-line supervisor; whether thru examination, assessment, appointment or popular vote, there are essential functions and elements that the title bestows.
  • The title also carries with it an immense responsibility, obligation, duty and accountability. It’s much more than a set of collar brass and new front helmet shield. 
  • Understand what the true meaning of leadership is; and how it conveys to the fireground and within our company missions and task assignments during structural combat fire engagement.
  • If you haven’t taken the time to read two insightful books, I would encourage you to read up; 

Beyond Band of Brothers


Band of Brothers


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