Special Edition Spotlight Story: An Afternoon with the Commander of the Band of Brothers

Clear Path for Veterans is honored to work with author, Colonel Cole Kingseed, U.S. Army-Ret., who has offered to write a quarterly article for the Clear Path newsletter spotlighing the many inspiring Veteran and military stories for our readers. This is the first special edition article in honor of Veterans Day.

An Afternoon with the Commander of the Band of Brothers

            Due to historian Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers and the HBO miniseries of the same name, Major Dick Winters may arguably be the most recognized U.S. Army company commander of World War II.  Over the last decade of his life I had the unique privilege of interviewing the Major Winters on numerous occasions.  Of the nearly one hundred days that I shared with the Major—I seldom called him Dick—one afternoon remains forever etched in my memory. 

            On the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, the Major asked me to visit him at his modest house in Hershey, Pennsylvania because he had something important to say to the men and women who wear and who have worn the uniform of the American armed forces.  I arrived that afternoon and the Major escorted me to his upstairs den.  “Now that the miniseries is released,” stated the Major, “there are a few things that I want to            clear up concerning the HBO series.”

            “First things first,” he continued, “D-Day will always be very important to me.”  When I inquired why, he responded, “D-Day was my baptism of fire and it was significant to me personally because I proved to myself that I had what it takes to lead soldiers in combat.  The miniseries calls the second episode the ‘Day of Days,’ but all of us who participated in ‘The Longest Day’ realized that we were just a small part of a mighty endeavor.  Whether you are a Soldier, a Sailor, an Airman, a Marine, or a member of the Coast Guard, we all serve the nation without respect to political affiliation.”  On reflection I think we sometimes forget the real purpose of why we serve.

            Our conversation then turned to the Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle in which the U.S. Army ever participated.  Said the Major, ”If you ask any veteran of the European war to identify his toughest single engagement, you might expect him to say D-Day or some other day when his unit underwent a significant emotional experience.  Ask the veteran to identify his toughest campaign and the choices are less diverse.  For a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, the answer is simple: The Battle of the Bulge. The thirty days between our arrival at Bastogne and the conclusion of the regiment’s attack on Noville on January 17 marked the most intense period of combat for the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II.  After Bastogne, the war was all downhill.”

            Victory in Europe produced a collective relief for the members of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force.  Major Winters then quoted war correspondent Ernie Pyle who wrote, “In the joyousness of high spirits it is easy for us to forget the dead. . .   But here are many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.” As Major Winters remembered V-E Day, he said, “I numbered a good many of my men, all good paratroops, among them.  I thanked God that the killing had come to an end.”

            Before departing Hershey, I turned to the Major and thanked him for sharing his inner most thoughts.  He smiled and said, “I wish to convey a final thought—and I hope that it doesn’t sound out of place—but I would like to share something as I look back on the war.  War brings out the worst and the best in people.  Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men and women.  For those of us who served in Easy Company and for those who served their country in other theaters, we came back as better men and women as a result of being in combat, and most would do it again if called upon.” 

            Small wonder why those who wear the uniform of the United States hold Major Dick Winters, commander of Easy Company, “The Band of Brothers,” in such high regard.  In a sense, the Major epitomizes the sacrifices of every veteran whose selfless service remains the hallmark of the American military.

 

With best wishes to every Veteran on Veteran’s Day,

Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army-Ret.

 

Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, USA (Ret.) is a thirty-year Army veteran who commanded at the platoon, company, and battalion levels.  During his career, he served in the Infantry in a variety of military assignments, culminating in his tenure as full professor of history and chief of military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Colonel Kingseed holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University (1983) and a MA in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College (1992). The author of Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis of 1956 (1995), The American Civil War (2004), From Omaha Beach to Dawson’s Ridge: The Combat Journal of Captain Joe Dawson (2005), Old Glory Stories: Army Leadership in World War II (2006), the #10 New York Times bestseller Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters (2006), -seventy-five articles on leadership, and 325 book reviews, Colonel Kingseed is a founding partner and the retired president of Battlefield Leadership, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in history-based leadership programs.  Kingseed also serves as a private leadership consultant and president of The Brecourt Leadership Experience, Inc., whose clients have included BlackRock, General Electric, EY, Deloitte, Merrill Lynch, Underwriters Laboratories, Bayer Corporation, State Farm Company, International Paper, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Ameriprise Financial.   In 2009 Colonel Kingseed won the prestigious Army Historical Foundation’s Distinguished Writing Award for his article on U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and his leadership during World War II.