Just finished reading “Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, the Man Who Led the Band of Brothers” and recommend it to all who enjoyed the Band of Brothers miniseries. While the focus is on his war years, it also brings into play much of his opinion and insight regarding the military of World War II and life in general. Some excerpts that I found interesting:
“The war in Europe ended officially the next day, May 8. While the fighting had ended, there were still objectives to be taken. …Winters got orders to pack up 2nd Battalion… The orders also stated that all captured German staff cars were to be left behind. Every man knew what that meant. Rear echelon staff officers were going to claim them as souvenirs. So Winters turned a blind eye as his men got careless. Cars were accidentally driven off cliffs or engines were allowed to run without oil. Sergeant Talbert heard that one car, supposedly used by Hitler himself, had bulletproof windows.
“They really are bulletproof, sir,” Talbert told Winters. “Unless you use an armor piercing round,” he added with a smile.1
Winters established his headquarters in the Hotel Kaprun in the center of town [Berchtesgaden]. … Shortly after he had set up his HQ, Winters sent a message to the local German military commander, a colonel, to report to his headquarters. The officer…dutifully showed up in full uniform, decorations in full display, pistol in a holster on his right hip.“Major,” the German said through his English-speaking staff officer. “I wish to surrender my command.”
He laid his pistol, a thoroughly cleaned Luger, on the table Winters was using for a desk.
“Very well, Colonel,” Winters said. “What I want you to do is spread the word through the valley that all weapons are to be turned in. You can deposit them at either the airport, the school or the church.” He picked the Luger up from the table and handed it to the colonel. “Officers may keep their sidearms, and so may any military police.”
Winters felt silly in his disheveled uniform giving orders to this fancily dressed, bemedaled officer twenty years his senior, but he continued.
“Tomorrow I will come out to inspect your camps, you kitchen and your men.”
“It will be done,” the colonel said. The two men exchanged saluted and the German left.
The colonel was better than his word. Next day when Winters and [Lewis] Nixon toured the areas where the weapons were to be collected, they found heaps of military rifles, pistols and knives. But also lying amid the piles were civilian hunting rifles, pistols, hunting knives, and even antique firearms. Winters’ order merely referred to military goods, but German efficiency took care of the rest.2
In order to on-site research, [Stephen] Ambrose and Winters traveled to Europe in 1989 and walked the old battlefields. … After a stop in Holland, where Winters posed outside the former 2nd Battalion HQ by the distinctive Schoonderlogt arch, duplicating a photo taken of him in full combat gear in October 1944, the tour continued into Belgium. In the Bois Jacques outside Foy, on a day when the warm, summer weather was considerably more agreeable than it had been forty-four years later, Ambrose began talking about Easy’s deployment for the attack on Foy.
“You take if from here, Dick,” Ambrose said.
He did. Although the tree line was now further from the town than it had been in 1945, Winters accurately pointed out his defensive positions.
“I had machine guns set up to provide suppressing fire there and there,” he said, pointing, “and there where Moria is standing.”
As if it had been staged, at the mention of her name, Ambrose’s wife began pawing at the cultivated field with her shoe. After a bit she stopped to pick up several objects. They were .30 caliber shell casing. Ambrose gaped in disbelief.3
1Larry Alexander, Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, the Man Who Led the Band of Brothers (New York: New American Library, 2005): p. 193
2Larry Alexander, Biggest Brother, 196
3Larry Alexander, Biggest Brother, 246