I am saddened by the passing of Maj. Dick Winters this past week. He needs no introduction to anyone who saw the Steven Ambrose mini-series Band of Brothers, or who read the book. For those that haven't yet seen it, Maj. Winters was the unlikely hero of Easy Company, 503rd PIR, 101st Airborne Division, in the battles of France and Germany at the end of World War II. (If you haven't seen it, go NOW and buy or rent it. It is not appropriate for children because of violence and language, but is essential for adults who want to try to understand the level of sacrifice that generation offered, and to get a comparison of how a we-centered generation lived versus how our me-centered generation(s) live.)
Maj. Winters was truly a hero, though he declined that description for himself. In his words, he served in the company of heroes. There were a lot of heroes in those places, some more likable than others; but heroes nonetheless. For quite a while now, we've been hearing of the death of these men. As most who served in WWII were born between 1915 and 1925, that generation (the Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw appropriately called them) is disappearing quickly.
One of the things about Maj. Winters that is compelling is the thought of him as simply the face of so many unknown heroes just like him. If you read Ambrose's series of books on that period and place of history, you'll meet many more of them, but they have not had the benefit of a mini-series to bring their stories to light.
I guess this is a reminder of why we should pay our respects (in words and actions) to those who served...we may often be showing our respect to a real hero, and never know it.
Obituary for Major Dick Winters (NY Times)