MARIE SAINT DU MONT, France – Along the causeway to Utah Beach stands a new monument to combat leadership, dedicated June 6 in memory of Maj. Richard Winters, who led paratroopers from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during the D-Day landings.
The memorial, unveiled 68 years after Winters and fellow 101st Airborne Division troops jumped into Normandy to fight the Nazis and liberate France, depicts Winters leading his men into combat. Hundreds of people gathered for the event, to include nine WWII veterans, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Maj. Gen. Jim McConville, commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
The heroic story of Easy Company – from the D-Day landings, to fighting in Holland, Belgium and Germany – was told by historian Stephen Ambrose and became the popular television mini-series, “Band of Brothers.” Two members of Easy Company, Herb Suerth and Al Mampre, attended the unveiling. Only 19 Easy Company members are living. Winters, who passed away last year at 92, would likely be overwhelmed by the crowd that gathered to honor him, Suerth said.
“He was very humble, a simple fellow,” said Suerth, who joined Easy Company in Mourmelon, France, just before the 101st Airborne Division fought in Bastogne. “It’s a well-deserved memorial, especially for the subject of leadership – not just for Dick Winters, but for the leadership provided by young men who were practically no older than the guys they were leading into battle.”
Winters, a first lieutenant serving as Easy Company’s executive officer during the jump, took command after 1st Lt. Thomas Meehan was killed, when his C-47 Sky Train was hit by German anti-aircraft guns.
“He was thrust into a position of leadership,” Suerth said. “All of us have the ability to develop our leadership skills. Some do it better than others. Dick excelled at it.”
Nearby, at Brecourt Manor, Winters led a dozen paratroopers in an attack on four enemy 105 mm howitzers firing on a Utah beach causeway. With little guidance, Winters directed his Soldiers to hit the gun from the flanks, using the a trench to attack one at a time. All the guns were destroyed, eliminating a threat to troops coming ashore. For his actions, Winters earned the Distinguished Service Cross.
One of the U.S. Soldiers coming ashore that morning was Jack Port, 90, of Escondido, Calif., who landed on Utah Beach with the 4th Infantry Division and made his way inland. Port, who attended the memorial’s unveiling, stared down the causeway to where his unit, the 12th Infantry Regiment landed.
“It was kind like a football play to me,” Port said. “The 8th (Infantry Regiment) took off to the left. The 22nd went to the right. And we came up the middle.”
Port returned to the beach a few days after, when he was shot near Montebourg. He rejoined his unit, which liberated the port of Cherbourg, before fighting south through Normandy and later entering Paris.
“I was just a kid, only 22 years old,” Port said, drifting into silence as emotions welled inside him. Like many D-Day veterans, Port won’t discuss the fighting.
A cool breeze passed through the farmlands causing the Stars and Stripes to flap beside the French tricolor. A WWII-era spotter plane buzzed the crowd, who listened to several speeches about how Winters embodied leadership principles, his courageous acts and his humble nature.
“Leadership is what Dick Winters wanted us to remember of him,” said Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor who served as the first director of Homeland Security.
On the evening of June 6, 1944, after heavy fighting, Winters promised himself that if he survived the war, he would “find a small farm in the Pennsylvania countryside” and spend the rest of his life in quiet and peace, Ridge said.
“Happy and proud are we who also call Pennsylvania home, that Maj. Dick Winters finally found his quiet and pace in our commonwealth – where America’s founders declared liberty, the very liberty that Maj. Winters and many more fought so hard to protect.”
Winters’ leadership and heroism helped save the lives of countless soldiers on D-Day and throughout the war, said McConville, 53, of Quincy, Mass., who has served three tours with the Screaming Eagles – currently as the division’s commanding officer. Over the past 10 years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 101st has been one of the most deployed divisions. Some 101st Soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, McConville said.
“We gather great strength from the history of the 101st Airborne Division,” McConville said. “And we have an incredible history that began here in Normandy.”
Jordan Brown, 13, of Pennsylvania, who raised nearly $100,000 for the monument and spoke about his hero at the ceremony. At age 11, Brown started collecting donations and passing out green wristbands with Winters’ motto, “Hang Tough.” Those two simple words, first used in combat, inspired Brown, he said. Winters taught people how to live, Brown said.
“He always led his troops from the front. He was always honest with his men and therefore they trusted him. He never thought of himself as anything special,” Brown said. “He always remained humble and he always remembered his brothers.”
Winters wrote “the essential page in the story of our liberation, said Henri Millet, Mayor of Sainte-Marie-Du Mont. Winters’ actions will not be forgotten, he said.
“This monument erected here in our commune will be here to remind us,” Millet said.
A new band of brothers, U.S. airmen from the Ramstein, Germany-based 435th Contingency Response Group were tapped to help pull the silk camouflage parachute off the 12-foot bronze statue of Winters, posed in a run with an M-1 Garand rifle.
During the first week of June, a contingent from the 86th Air Wing took part in several commemorative events, said Tech Sgt. Brian Angell, 34 of Tuscon, Ariz., who help unveil the memorial.
“We were just in the crowd and they wanted some military support and we were honored to play this small, small role,” Angell said. “It’s important for us to keep this history alive.”