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Reluctant WWII Hero Immortalized With Statue Near Utah Beach

According to his memoirs, Richard D. Winters enlisted in the Army on Aug. 25, 1941, aiming to serve for just one year and avoid being drafted for an extended period of time.  

Little did he realize he'd become a World War II hero with a statue of himself erected near Utah Beach where he landed on D-Day. 

The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native had just graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster with a degree in economics, and he was eager to start a career in business. Going into combat was not on his wish list. 

But when the U.S. entered World War II on Dec. 7, 1941, his plans — and his life — changed. 

After completing basic training at Camp Croft, South Carolina, he was selected to attend Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. 

A paratrooper gets his photo taken.
Army Maj. Richard D. Winters
Army Maj. Richard D. Winters trains to be a paratrooper at Camp Toccoa, Ga., 1942.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 420503-O-D0439-007Y
A uniformed soldier smiles for a photo.
Army Maj. Richard D. Winters
Army Maj. Richard D. Winters poses for a photo in his uniform near the end of World War II.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 450503-O-D0439-007Y

The newly minted second lieutenant became a paratrooper and was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. 

In 1943, his regiment sailed to Liverpool, England, and his unit began training for the long-anticipated invasion of France. 

Winters and his platoon boarded a C-47 Skytrain aircraft in England at around 1:15 a.m. on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The platoon parachuted near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France.  

The company commander, who was Winters' superior, was killed, along with all onboard, when their C-47 was shot down by German antiaircraft fire. So, Winters became the company commander throughout the remainder of the Normandy campaign. 

During D-Day, Winters and seven soldiers led what became known as the Brecourt Manor Assault near Utah Beach, which destroyed a battery of howitzers, manned by 50 Germans. The assault also resulted in Winters capturing a map that showed all of the gun emplacements at or near Utah Beach. 

On July 1, 1944, Winters was promoted to captain, and the next day, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Medal by Army Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army. Winters had been recommended for the Medal of Honor, but it was downgraded to the DSC, which was a common occurrence. 

People in town talk with service members.
French Discussion
U.S. soldiers chat with residents of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France, during World War II. Army Maj. Richard D. Winters parachuted there.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 440630-O-D0439-007Y

Winters went on to distinguish himself in combat in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden, during the Battle of the Bulge and in the invasion of Germany. He was promoted to major near the end of the war. 

During the Korean War, Winters was recalled to active duty; he served briefly, and then he resigned his commission, eager to finally get into the business world. 

He became a production supervisor at a plastics plant and later started his own company selling animal feed to farmers in Pennsylvania. In 1997, he retired in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and he died in 2011. 

A statue of a service member holding a weapon. Two flags are in the background.
Army Maj. Richard D. Winters
A statue immortalizes Army Maj. Richard D. Winters with the 101st Airborne Division, who parachuted into Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The photo taken May 3, 2024, near Utah Beach, Normandy, close to the town where he landed.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 240503-D-UB488-007Y
A year after his death, a 12-foot-tall bronze statue of Winters, known as the Richard D. Winters Leadership Monument, was unveiled near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, where he first landed in France. 

The plaque reads: "Dedicated to all those who led the way on D-Day." Another inscription reads: "Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in great men." 

Winters agreed to the statue of himself only after assurances that the statue would be dedicated to all of the junior officers who led the way at Normandy. 

Some of Winters' World War II uniforms are on display at the Battle of the Bulge Museum in La Gleize, Belgium, and at the Gettysburg Museum of History in Pennsylvania. 

Winters wrote his experiences in a book titled "Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memories of Major Dick Winters." 

A book about Winters, written by Larry Alexander, is titled "Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers." 

Actor Damian Lewis portrayed Winters in the HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers."

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