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Remembering Our Heroes: Hang Tough... A Brief Reminiscences of Major Richard Winters

Updated on June 20, 2011
Richard Winters in his paratrooper gear.
Richard Winters in his paratrooper gear.

"So why exactly is he a hero?", said my girlfriend as I was telling her how excited I was that my 'Hang Tough' wristband had finally shown up in the mail.

At the time of the question I sputtered off some various reasons, but since then I've had some time to reflect on that question. Many Americans don't know the name Richard Winters. If referenced most people would probably say, "Who?

It strikes me as sad to say the least, that we as Americans (or humans in general) are so busy with our lives that we don't properly take the time to remember and honor our heroes. Without the heroes of our past it is unlikely that we would be where we are today. If brave men such as Major Winters hadn't risked their lives in the battle of D-Day would I be sitting here free to write this article as I am today?

So Who was Major Richard Winters?

Richard "Dick" Winters was an intelligent young man from Pennsylvania that worked and paid his way through Franklin and Marshall college near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Around the time he graduated, World War II began and he enlisted. He served our country during World War ll and the Korean war, partaking in many great battles during World War II, being promoted to Major, and receiving many prestigious military awards.

WWII Paratroopers preparing for a jump.
WWII Paratroopers preparing for a jump.


June 5, 1944 - On the eve of what is known as one of the greatest military assaults of all time Richard Winters stepped on to a military plane bound for France. The paratroopers would deploy at night, and would be on the ground when the main infantry landed on the beaches in the morning. As the large C-47 planes transported the men of Easy Company along with many other American soldiers, they came under heavy fire by German anti-aircraft artillery. Many men wouldn't reach the ground of Normandy alive. Because of the heavy fire, the pilot of the plane that Winters was on ordered the paratroopers to deploy early. Winters touched down a good distance from the intended drop zone. When he reached the ground he realized that his leg bag containing his rifle was gone. Separated from the other men and weaponless, he navigated his way through enemy territory gathering which of his men he could find and lost men from other units. Throughout the night Winters led these men until they made it to the makeshift headquarters.

Soldiers landing on Utah Beach. Richard Winters led Easy Company to defeat the Germans firing Cannons at the soldiers landing by boat on Utah Beach.
Soldiers landing on Utah Beach. Richard Winters led Easy Company to defeat the Germans firing Cannons at the soldiers landing by boat on Utah Beach.

Upon arriving at headquarters, Winters and the few men from Easy Company that could be accounted for learned that their commanding officer Lieutenant Meehan was missing in action along with 90% of Easy Company. It would later be learned that Lt. Meehan's plane was shot down in transit. Being the highest ranked officer available, Winters assumed the role of commanding officer of Easy Company. Though they were few in number, Easy Company was still assigned the task of disabling 4 large German cannons that were laying heavy fire on Utah Beach where the army was landing its assault. Outnumbered and out gunned, Winters led a small band against the entrenched Germans controlling the cannons. The tactics he came up with at the spur of the moment, led Easy Company to defeat the Germans and stop the cannon fire on Utah Beach. These same tactics for assaulting a fixed position are still being taught today at The West Point Militarty Academy. Because of this successful awe inspiring battle, Lt. Winters received the Distinguished Service Cross. Since that time, many have felt he should be awarded the Congressional Medal Honor. Several organizations are still fighting for this cause today.

Members of the 101st Airborne inspecting a plane wreck. Easy Company wast part of the 101st Airborne.
Members of the 101st Airborne inspecting a plane wreck. Easy Company wast part of the 101st Airborne.

Operation Market Garden

The now promoted Captain Winters led Easy Company in the Operation Market Garden. During this battle Winters led a small squad that took over a German machine gun crew that was firing on their command post. After seizing the location, they were fired upon by Germans nearby. Winters figured there was at least a platoon of Germans nearby, and called for the rest of his platoon to strike. He was wrong in his calculation however, there was over 300 German soldiers. Easy company would not be defeated and remained victorious.

It was after this battle that Captain Winters became battalion executive officer, although he was still a captain.

U.S. Soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.
U.S. Soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.

Battle of the Bulge

At the Battle of the Bulge the 101st Airborne including Easy Company along with members of the 10th Armored Division held back 15 German divisions for approximately a week before allied forces broke through the German lines. After the reinforcements arrived and the line was broken, They were part of the battalion that captured the city of Foy. Winters was not only promoted to Major, but became the acting battalion commander of 2nd Battalion.

The Ribbons of Major RIchard Winters.
The Ribbons of Major RIchard Winters.

Awards and Service Recognition

Major Winters was awarded many prestigious military awards throughout his career including the Distinguished Service Cross, The Bronze Star, The Purple Heart, The Presidential Unit Citation, The American Defense Service Medal, The National Defense Service Medal, and many more.

Many people still believe that Major Richards should be given the highest military honor which is the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 2007 Initiative H. R. 796 was presented to Congress, which if passed would have awarded Major Richards this honor. However, it did not pass.

Band of Brothers

A historian named Stephen E. Ambrose wrote a book about the men of Easy Company called "Band of Brothers". Based off the book, HBO created a mini series which followed Winters and the men of Easy Company throughout their tour of duty during World War 2. It was also titled "Band of Brothers".

Actor Damian Lewis plays the role of Richard Winters as the series portrays the events that Winters and Men of Easy Company went through both in battle and mentally. Richard Winters along with several of the remaining living members of Easy Company contributed input to the series. The veterans were also given the privilege of viewing the series before it premiered and approved its close accuracy. The series was nominated for 19 Emmy awards and won 6. It also won awards from the Golden Globe, the American Filim Institute, and the Writers Guild.

My Hang Tough Wristband
My Hang Tough Wristband

Hang Tough

At the beginning of the article I mentioned getting wristbands in the mail. This is because there is currently a charity raising money to build a monument for Major Winters in Saint Marie-Du-Mont, France. This was a town Major Winters and Easy Company helped to liberate during the war. An 11 year old kid from the Major's hometown started a website and began selling the wristbands with the words "Hang Tough" on them to raise money for the monument. "Hang Tough" were the words that Major Winters would say to his men while in battle.

A True American Hero

Major Richard Winters passed away on January 2nd, 2011 and though he is gone, This great American hero and the things he did for our country will be remembered by the many who are proud to be called an American alongside him. The stories of his courage and bravery will certainly live on to inspire generations to come, serving future generations as lessons of valor and selflessness. Heroes of the magnitude of Major Richard Winters should never be forgotten.


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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow! This is a great story. My husband's dad was a bomber pilot in WWII, mostly in Germany. I'll have to get him to read this. I think he'd find it very interesting. Thank you!

    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thank you for the comment annaw! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub!

    • annaw profile image


      9 years ago from North Texas

      Great hub. I have an interest in WWII, it seems as time goes by and the years wain I am more and more interested.There is 'something' about that war that intriques me. I voted this up and awesome


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