Major Dick Winters led Easy Company from the confusion and chaos of D-Day to the final capture of Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Now comes the story of his last years as witnessed and experienced by his good friend Cole C. Kingseed. This is a story of leadership, fame, friendship and one man's struggle to find the peace that he promised himself if he survived World War II.
COLE C. KINGSEED (Col. USA, ret.) is Professor Emeritus of History at the United States Military Academy, West Point. He is the author of Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis of 1956 (1995).
Praise for Conversations with Major Dick Winters "Kingseed has captured the essence of a great military leader as only a soldier-historian can."--Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty
"An anatomy of leadership, of courage, of discipline, and above all, of self-knowledge."--Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel and Hitler's Panzers
"A remarkable soldier recounts his understated leadership journey through war and peace."--Brigadier General (Ret.) Frank H. Akers Jr., USA, president and CEO, Oak Ridge Strategies Group, Inc.
Praise for Conversations with Major Dick Winters "Kingseed has captured the essence of a great military leader as only a soldier-historian can."--Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty "An anatomy of leadership, of courage, of discipline, and above all, of self-knowledge."--Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel and Hitler's Panzers "A remarkable soldier recounts his understated leadership journey through war and peace."--Brigadier General (Ret.) Frank H. Akers Jr., USA, president and CEO, Oak Ridge Strategies Group, Inc.
Now in paperback-the final words, wisdom, and courage of the leader of the legendary Band of Brothers.
AUTHOR''S NOTE I am generally skeptical of any author who puts within quotation marks conversations he never heard or who pretends to recollect with absolute fidelity conversations he heard many years ago. I, too, am guilty of some reconstruction, but the conversations with Major Dick Winters that appear in this book are as I best remember them. There are a few conversations in which I did not participate and others that I heard firsthand more than fifteen years ago. The former conversations are based on the memory of mutual friends who shared their recollections with me to provide the reader with a fuller understanding of Major Winters. In the latter conversations, the key phrases appear as I meticulously recorded them in my journal within days of my visits with the major. Additionally, the candid conversations outlined in the forthcoming pages follow a more thematic than chronological order; hence within each chapter the dialogue quoted often transpired over repeated sessions with Dick Winters and was not confined to a single visit. Consequently, I urge the reader to exercise some discretion in accepting with absolute certainty every word that is recorded and to take my recollections with the necessary grain of salt. FOREWORD Aside from an occasional short wrap-up on the national network news stations and an Associated Press release that appeared in the obituary section of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania''s Patriot-News on January 10, 2011, I suspect few Americans noticed the passing of Major Dick Winters of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Winters was a most remarkable man whose story was chronicled by historian Stephen E. Ambrose in Band of Brothers . In the wake of the 2001 Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries of the same title, Winters published his own memoirs in an effort to set the record straight and to record the accomplishments of an airborne company in combat during World War II. Beyond Band of Brothers rapidly climbed on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction, peaking at number ten within two months of publication. As for Winters, one reviewer stated that he "was too humble for a genre that requires a little bit of conceit." The American public disagreed. I suppose the obituary would have attracted greater attention had it read, "Died January 2, 2011, the commanding officer of the Band of Brothers," for it was by that title that Dick Winters was more widely known. I had every reason to know him, for not only had he asked me to coauthor his memoirs in November 2003, but our personal and professional association also predated his death by well over a decade. In his declining years, when public access to this aging veteran was extremely limited, I was privileged to visit Winters on a monthly basis. At first, our discussions revolved around his role in the twentieth century''s bloodiest conflict. Ironically, after I mailed the memoir manuscript to our publisher in April 2005, we never again addressed the war in detail. Winters had finally left it behind him. "It is finished," he stated emphatically when we submitted the manuscript. In his final years, we spoke only of more pleasant issues, nothing more than two old soldiers sharing memories of time long past. What struck me most was his undying loyalty to the soldiers whom he led in the most cataclysmic war in history. In the twilight of his own memory, his thoughts always returned to Easy Company, to happier times when a group of young men joined together to fight for freedom and to liberate a world from tyranny. Especially treasured were the memories of experiences he shared with family, friends, and the men of Easy Company. None was ever forgotten by the old soldier who resided in the white house along picturesque Elm Avenue in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I first met Dick Winters on April 6, 1998, when he traveled to the U.S. Military Academy to address the Corps of Cadets on the topic of frontline leadership during World War II. As chief of military history in the Department of History at West Point, I routinely encouraged my officers to ask veterans to speak to their respective classes. Few members of the military faculty took me up on my suggestion, for no other reason than that ambitious young officers preferred to teach the cadets themselves and seemed reluctant to turn over control of their classes to outside teachers. On that particular afternoon, however, Major Matt Dawson entered my office to inform me that he had invited Major Dick Winters to address his class on the Battle of the Bulge. "You know who Dick Winters is, don''t you, sir?" I had never heard of Winters, although I had read Ambrose''s Band of Brothers six years earlier. His name simply did not register. Fortunately, I did not have to reveal my ignorance because Dawson added, "You know, the guy from Band of Brothers ." "Yes, Matt, Dick Winters from Band of Brothers ." "Would you like to join us for dinner tonight?" Seldom did I "pull rank" on one of my subordinates, but on this occasion I made an exception to my long-standing policy. As with most of the leaders who spoke at West Point on the subject of leadership in combat, I wanted the opportunity to explore how leadership among the ground troops is essentially different from any other situation--even air forces and navies, where the violence is indirect and depersonalized. This reflects the fact that armies are sui generis : Their primary function involves the direct employment and the direct experience of human-generated violence. Consequently, I graciously thanked Major Dawson for the invitation, but added that I preferred to host Winters alone for a quiet dinner at the Hotel Thayer on the grounds of West Point. It was one of the best decisions that I ever made as an army officer. And so it began. I remember him as if it were yesterday. The old soldier emerged from the elevator in the hotel lobby at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, dapperly attired in a dark blazer with the crest of the 101st Airborne Division on his pocket. His neatly cropped gray hair reflected a military man far younger than his current seventy-nine-plus years. I am not sure what I had expected to see. At the time of our initial encounter, most veterans of World War II were in their late seventies or early eighties. Most veterans who visited West Point to share their reminiscences with the cadets walked with the aid of canes or walkers. In Winters''s case, there was a noticeable spring in his step that belied his age. This shy, quiet gentleman who introduced himself simply as "Dick Winters" immediately made an indelible impression on me. From the beginning, I was "Cole," he was "Dick." Never once for the next thirteen years did we ever address each other by rank or surname. Over dinner Dick and I discussed a myriad of topics, all associated with his wartime experience and his thoughts on leadership in war. Why were some commanders more effective than others in inspiring their men? How did you identify the best soldiers in your company? Had he relieved any commander in combat? To what did he attribute his success in Easy Company? Were his leadership principles applicable to the civilian and the corporate worlds? Minutes evolved into hours as we discussed leadership under a number of circumstances. Before we finished dinner, I had already decided that I would include Dick Winters in the book I was writing about combat leadership during World War II. To my great satisfaction, he invited me to spend a few days on his farm outside Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania. By the time that the evening was over, I had received the best primer on leadership than I had obtained in twenty-five years of commissioned service. No man, with the exception of my own father, exerted a greater influence on my life. For the next decade, Dick''s and my lives were mutually intertwined. I am honored that he considered me his friend. For some inexplicable reason, he chose to share his memories with me. He seemed comfortable communicating with me in a way he never could or would with popular historian Ambrose. Little could I have realized that henceforth my professional life would revolve around the heart of the company town founded by Dick''s boyhood hero, Milton S. Hershey. In the decade of our association, I remained a frequent guest, never missing an opportunity to visit the man who not only captured the imagination of veterans of the Greatest Generation, but had also bequeathed a legacy of selfless service to a younger generation in search of heroes and heroines. Now that he is gone, it seems appropriate to share the story of our friendship, how it began and how it matured over time. And if the readers will be patient, surely they will understand the manner by which this citizen-soldier touched thousands of lives with his favorite aphorism, "Hang Tough!" PART ONE * CHAPTER I We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. . . . In our youths, our hearts were touched by fire. --OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR. It was nearly two years from our initial meeting and less than six months from my visit to the farm outside Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, before Dick extended an invitation to join him in Hershey to answer any "questions that you have." We had corresponded regularly during that interval, but a number of things had precluded a visit. First, on Easter Sunday in 1998, Dick had experienced a bad fall that resulted in him landing on the back of his neck and suffering a mild concussion. "In the past," he wrote, "following a fall or injury, all I needed was a good night''s sleep and I would wake up feeling good as new. Not this time. I am feeling much better, but progress is