Lessons from Major Dick Winters
28 September 2018
Some of you may have seen the World War II documentary, Band of Brothers. Major Dick Winters grew up as a loner in school with a focus on sport and his studies rather than engaging in the social activities of his peers. Even when he joined the paratroopers, he preferred a quiet evening in the barracks with his military manuals rather than the robust nightlife on offer nearby.
He found that personal reflection time and some time for solitude fed his soul and provided inner resilience that stood him in good stead as an officer with the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He focused on being incredibly physically fit, with such attention to training that he won the paratroopers challenge that had eliminated over 60% of the initial group who’d applied.
He chose to abstain from alcohol for his entire life, to treat women with absolute respect and to refrain from swearing. In fact he refused to endorse the Band of Brothers movie script until Tom Hanks had removed the swearing which had been in the script for his character, played by Damian Lewis. While Hanks initially claimed it was too late in the production, Winters stood his ground and refused to budge. You won’t hear a single profanity from Lewis in the series. He had some inspiring quotes that resonate in any circumstance that we might face today. “War exposes the best and worst of those who are called to fight. I know of no man who lacked character in peace and then discovered his character in combat.” He felt that leadership was about integrity, leading from the front and having the trust of the people who depend on you. It was his personal quest to excel that made others willing to follow him. Not just through the battles of Normandy but his example and commitment in life.
For Winters, even in the rigors of war, going to church was the bedrock of his character. He described that while it was harder to get to church in the war zone, church held in a barn with some cows crunching hay added a delightful aroma to the setting.
We may not be tasked like Winters, a young army officer in his early 20s, to lead a group of soldiers into active combat. But we are all people of influence. We all impact others for good or for ill. As the leader of the family unit: What do your children see in you? Is it your personal integrity, your commitment and dedication to your family? Do you provide a sense of value and lead by example? Do I? Sobering questions that get to the heart of our society, our local community, our school and our families. As our Year 12 class finish their final formal week of school – not much younger than Major Winters when he joined up – their contribution as aspiring leaders in our society is one we look to with interest. We want to wish them well and trust that their contribution will be one of integrity and of service as they too lead by example.