The Medal of Honor Never Awarded
June 6, 1944. D-Day, H-Hour. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had already written his concession speech for Operation Overlord. In it he admits defeat therein and asserts that any responsibility therefore fell solely on his own shoulders. However, it was a speech he would never have to give. The landings on Omaha and Utah, supplemented by support from the Airborne among others, were a success. Though there were casualties, the objectives were achieved. This was due to the personal fortitude and sacrifice of the men who courageously fought on in spite of all obstacles hurled their way. What they did that day will be remembered forever. A Day of Days it was called.
Among those whose actions paved the way for success were, notably, a handful of members of Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. While many were scattered across Normandy and later regrouped, those who initially made it to the rendezvous point would soon make it into the pages of history. Among those men was (then) Lieutenant Richard Winters.
Lieutenant Winters, acting commanding officer of Easy Company, led an assault that would later be taught at West Point. Our boys were receiving a shellacking on Utah beach due to a cluster of 88-mm German guns manned and defended by roughly one hundred and fifty German soldiers. Lieutenant Winters and thirteen men disabled these guns; aiding directly to the success of the landing and simultaneously reducing the number of casualties thereof.
In addition to company citations, for his own actions that day Lieutenant Richard Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The full citation therefore is below:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to First Lieutenant (Infantry) Richard D. Winters (ASN: 0-1286582), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company E, 2d Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, in action against enemy forces on 6 June 1944, in France. First Lieutenant Winters with seven enlisted men, advanced through intense enemy automatic weapons fire, putting out of action two guns of the battery of four 88-mm. that were shelling the beachhead. Unswerving in his determination to complete his self-appointed and extremely hazardous task, First Lieutenant Winters and his group withdrew for reinforcements. He returned with tank support and the remaining two guns were put out of action, resulting in decreased opposition to our forces landing on the beachhead. First Lieutenant Winters' heroic and determined leadership exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 101st Airborne Division, and the United States Army.
What is largely unknown is that his commanding officer, Colonel Sink, originally recommended the Medal of Honor for Lieutenant Winters’ actions at Brecourt Manor. However, this was downgraded due to a quota system limiting one per division. As Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Cole had already received the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Winters could not also receive one.
Lieutenant Winters continued to serve as commanding officer of Easy Company and then later executive officer and battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion. He volunteered, though exempt, due to the point accumulation system, to move on to the Pacific Theatre after the victory in Europe. Eventually he would return to the United States before answering the call again during the Korean War as a regimental planning and training officer. Following discharge, Major Winters then went on to do what he promised himself. Eventually he built his family a farm and began his own company selling animal food products. He still lives in Pennsylvania.
Major Winters would also go on to write his own memoir, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, chronicling his time in the service, and participate in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. Therein Major Winters quotes a letter he received from Sergeant Ranney, also a member of Easy Company:
"I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, 'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said 'No… but I served in a company of heroes…'"
There is a reason his generation is deemed this country’s greatest. People such as Major Winters are the reason. There were many of them, but herein I highlight him—the man and his service. For he did his country a great service. He rose above and beyond the call of duty. It is well beyond time that his actions be recognized to the full extent they merit.
A bill had been introduced by Representative Tim Holden, D-Pennsylvania, but still has yet to be passes. I would hope Representative Holden would continue his efforts to have recognized one of America’s many living heroes. I would hope that the bill will pass. Lastly, I would hope that Major Winters lives to see the day that he be awarded what is indubitably his, a Medal of Honor.