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Standing by the grave of Major Richard D. Winters on Sunday, gazing at the American flag fluttering in the icy January wind, this reporter felt a profound sense of loss.
Winters, the Lancaster County native who rose to worldwide fame as leader of the Band of Brothers during World War II, died Jan. 2 at Conestoga Cottage hospice center in Campbelltown, Lebanon County, where he had been a patient for three weeks.
He was just 19 days shy of his 93rd birthday.
Winters' death and burial last week were as private as his life has been of late, as his once robust health began to fail.
A public memorial will be held at a time and place to be announced.
Winters' passing was not unexpected, but the finality of it is still difficult to grasp, both for friends like me and for the men who served under him.
"You could not find a better man than Dick Winters," William "Wild Bill" Guarnere said Monday. "He was such a leader."
Guarnere, who lives in Philadelphia, mentioned the current effort to erect a statue in St. Marie du Mont in France, honoring American army officers. The statue will be a likeness of Winters.
"It's a statue to leadership," Guarnere said. "That speaks for itself. Everybody knows about him, not only us who served with him."
Clancy Lyall of Lexington, Md., also served under Winters and called his former commanding officer "a gentleman's warrior."
"He was an outstanding leader," Lyall said. "He was right there with you, anyplace, anytime, anywhere. I served many years in the military and never found an officer who could touch Dick's elbow."
Lyall recalled Winters and other veterans of Easy Company at a World War II event in Reading in 2002, where re-enactors portraying the 101st Airborne carried a reproduction of the 506th Parachute Infantry's regimental flag.
"We saw his eyes pop, and we said 'We gotta get him one of those,' " Lyall said.
Winters was presented with a replica of the flag at a birthday party in Hershey the following January, an event attended by this reporter. He proudly displayed the flag in his home office.
Winters was born in Lancaster General Hospital on Jan. 21, 1918. The family lived briefly in New Holland before moving to Ephrata, where young Dick began school.
In the late 1920s the family moved to 418 S. West End Ave. in Lancaster.
Winters graduated from Boys High School in 1937, then attended Franklin & Marshall College.
Winters, who worked to pay for his education, never missed a day of class in four years at F&M.
He entered the U.S. Army on Aug. 25, 1941. After basic training, he volunteered for the newly formed paratroops. He attended Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant.
Assigned to Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne, Winters became company commander upon the death of Lt. Thomas Meehan on D-Day.
"Meehan got killed and Winters took over," Guarnere said. "Man oh man, what a mess we had back then. We lived through it though."
On D-Day, Winters led 12 men in an attack on a German artillery position at Brecourt Manor in Normandy. His men knocked out the four cannons, for which Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
He led the company until October 1944, after which he became a battalion commander. He ended the war with the rank of major.
Throughout the years, Winters believed Easy Company "had a story to tell" and he eventually attracted the attention of author Stephen E. Ambrose.
In 1992, Ambrose's "Band of Brothers" was released. Film rights were purchased by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. In 2001, they released the 10-part HBO miniseries, propelling Winters and his aging comrades to the international stage.
"I remember when I went to Ambrose and I said, 'Would you tell our story?' " Winters told me in 2004. "That's all I asked for. He did a heck of a job and it's exceeded anybody's expectations."
Over the next several years, Winters received thousands of letters from fans all over the world.
This reporter met Winters in 2001 after being assigned to do a story about him. We quickly became friends when it was discovered we both grew up on the same street in Ephrata.
With Winters' help and support, I was privileged to write a book about his life entitled "Biggest Brother," which was a labor of love and one of my proudest achievements.
Visiting Dick and Ethel Winters at their Hershey home, sitting and chatting with him in his office and eating lunch with Dick at a nearby restaurant are happy memories I will cherish always.
Throughout his remarkable life, Winters told everyone he met to "Hang Tough," meaning they should "do their very best every day." He was a man of strong character, expecting it of himself and seeking for it in others.
"I find that as I go through life and I meet other people, what I am doing as I get to know them is I'm looking at them and I'm seeing if I find the same characteristics and qualities in them that I have in the men I fought with," he said to me. "That's what I'm looking for. If I can find in a man those characteristics, then I know what I'm dealing with."
Concerning his celebrity status, Winters told me, "Everybody wants to have a piece of you."
That's over. Dick Winters now belongs to history.
Read more: http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/4/336062#ixzz1AmsF2faH