This is an interview with Major Dick Winters of Easy Company. Some may remember Major Winters from the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers”. This hard-charging, extremely efficient leader’s character was depicted by actor Damien Lewis. If you didn’t catch the series, it is certainly a MUST-WATCH! This interview specifically is depicted in Episode II: Day of Days.
I believe that all firefighters and fire officers in today’s fire service can take a lesson from Major Winters. The above video is Major Winters discussing in his own words Easy Company’s assault on Brecourt Manor in Normandy, France on the morning of June 6th, 1944 (D-Day). We’ll dissect this video to pull some fire service parallels that may be drawn:
20s: Colonel Strayer orders a young officer (then First Lieutenant Dick Winters) to “take care of that fire coming from the right flank”, referencing the (4) 105mm guns that were “zeroed” on the causeway (landing zones) on Utah Beach, dug into a hedgerow. There is no micro-management, he is just simply ordered to take care of a problem! Major Winters then comments that Colonel Strayer didn’t know that Winters only had twelve men. Twelve members to take on a heavily entrenched and extremely dangerous foe! Sound familiar to many?
35s: Major Winters discusses his reconnaissance of the enemy position that he was ordered to eliminate. We call this a pre-plan in our business. In our courses, we like to get everyone thinking that every run should be treated like a pre-plan. Remember subtle things about the building so you can recall them at a later time. How are the doors locked? How many stairways are in the building? What doors are blocked? The presence window bars, etc. Major Winters conducted his own size-up noting that he found a “connecting trench”.
45s: Major Winters discusses the results of his reconnaissance (pre-plan). He recognizes the “connecting trench” that he is confronted with, and recalls the correct way to attack this position. In our world, he is conducting SIZE-UP. He is gathering information that is immediately available, recalling training and previous experience to formulate a plan of attack. He already had a plan-of-attack because soldiers before him had been confronted with similar situations. He plugs in the people (riding list) to where they will be most efficient (pre-determined job assignments) to conduct this operation and eliminate the German resistance.
1m 12s: Major Winters describes the textbook execution of an assault on a connecting trench. Major Winters and Easy Company with TWELVE members took on a well dug-in artillery and machine gun emplacement of over 50 German soldiers. Easy Company disabled four guns that were “zeroed” in on the landing causeway on Utah Beach. They killed 15 of the enemy (wounded many more) and captured 12 prisoners. Upon taking Brecourt Manor, they also captured a map with nearly every gun emplacement in Normandy. When he describes this assault for Steven Ambrose for “Band of Brothers”, he simply describes the operation as “a simple frontal assault with covering fire”. In our world, this is the OPERATION. With training, experience, well-informed leaders and men that trust their instincts, their training and their leader (officer), they execute a seemingly impossible task with extreme professionalism and efficiency.
After the assault on the gun emplacements at Brecourt Manor, then First Lieutenant Dick Winters was given command of Easy Company (previous commander killed in the overnight jump). This was followed by a promotion to Captain on July 2nd, less than a month later. Colonel Sink recommended Winters for the Medal of Honor for his actions at Brecourt Manor that morning, but only one member of Easy Company was to receive that award. Major Winters instead received the Distinguished Service Cross, and Silver and Bronze Stars awarded to the members that participated in the assault. In our world, perhaps Major Winters would be called a “buff”, “gong”, “nerd” or “fan” if he was a firefighter or officer in one of our firehouses. The fact is, he knew what had to be done, how to do it and who to plug into the various positions to get the job done. An OUTSTANDING leader of an OUTSTANDING company.
Later in life, when asked if he thought of himself as a hero, he responded “No! but I served in a company of heros!”
This was ONE DAY in a great man’s career in the military! So why do we recognize Major Winters today? Unfortunately, Major Winters passed away on January 2nd, 2011 at the age of 92. He led a full and great life, and I am sure that there were several nights that he thought he may not see 40. We recognize him for the lives he touched, the lives he saved, the men he led and the absolutely efficient operation that he was in command of in World War II.
Thank you brother. You will be sorely missed, as will all veterans of your era that continue to fall in only increasing numbers. Godspeed, and watch over us always!
Co-Owner, Brotherhood Instructors, LLC.
Reference: CMOH Website of Major Richard Winters