Major Dick Winters died quietly and without fanfare on January 2, 2011 at the ripe old age of 92. According to media reports, Winters, ever the private and humble man, asked that news about his death be delayed until after he was buried. Winters was the central character and leader of the Band of Brothers and perhaps the most loved and respected. His warmth and humanity were the most memorable parts of this remarkable story of a group of men who survived the horrors of World War II.
Ironically, just the other day I was thinking of a scene from Band of Brothers and was struggling with remembering the names of all the characters. The scene came to me while watching the news about the horrors in Tucson and the caustic rhetoric that has polarized and is slowly destroying our country. I thought about the loathsome disrespect shown to the President of the United States by a trite Member of Congress during last year’s presidential State of the Union address and the disgusting bombast that seems to regularly come from the extremists these days.
I recalled the scene towards the end of Band of Brothers when Winters, now a highly decorated Major has an impromptu interaction with the character of Captain Herbert Sobel played brilliantly by actor David Schwimmer. Sobel a slezebag tyrant of an Army officer, hated by the men for his vindictiveness and cruelty, is the antithesis of Winters, and in early part of story the major antagonist. In the recalled scene, the still-Captain Sobel passes Major Winters, once his subordinate and now his superior officer, neglecting/refusing to salute the passing Winters. Winters, who could let the disrespect pass, calls Sobel on it and says in an artful and memorable declaration: "Captain Sobel, we salute the rank, not the man." Sobel acquiesces and salutes Winters.
Richard Winters was a soldier’s soldier, a true American hero and genuinely beautiful human being. Of course I know him only through the portrayal in Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers book and HBO series, but if he was half the man as that described in these literary works, he was quite an extraordinary individual. With his brand of humility and grace, we won WWII because of people like him. This country could use a few more like him today.
Thank you Major Winters, and may perpetual light shine upon you. May you Rest in Peace.