Following his lead

By on May 27, 2015

ER (CUTOUT) 20150527_COCSchoeneckMemorialDay5 Major Richard Winters was not one to seek attention.

So when a crowd estimated at more than 800 people stopped by to visit the memorial statue of Winters at the new Veteran’s Plaza in Ephrata on Memorial Day, his good friend Bob Hoffman was pretty sure he wouldn’t have minded.

“I think Dick would have approved,” said Hoffman, as he paid tribute to his longtime friend and World War II veteran.

Winters died in 2011, quietly and with just family members and closest friends at his funeral, as he had wished. On Memorial Day, however, his childhood hometown of Ephrata was out in full force to honor Winters with the dedication of the Veteran’s Plaza and Winters Leadership Memorial along the linear trail in Ephrata.

The plaza is located along the Major Dick Winters Memorial Trail off East Fulton Street, less than 100 yards from Winters’ boyhood home on land that is now owned by Ephrata Borough

“Dick was a great leader,” said Hoffman, adding that he had once told him that “an individual only dies when people stop talking about him.”ER20150527_WintersMem179

 

Everyone was talking about Winters on Monday along with the millions of men and women who had served their country. It was Memorial Day, after all, and there could be no better day to pay tribute to a man who had inspired so many with his heroism and bravery.

“Dick Winters, we miss you,” said Hoffman, adding that it was a day to honor all of the veterans who had sacrificed for their country. “God bless our veterans and God bless America.”

Winters was born in New Holland and lived most of this childhood in Ephrata. During World War II he served as commander of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

Later in life, Winters lived a quiet life on his Fredericksburg farm and later in Hershey. Then his life and name came into the international spotlight.

In 1992, author Stephen Ambrose wrote his best-selling book “Band of Brothers,” about the World War II experiences of Winters and his men. Then in 2001, that book was made into an Emmy-winning miniseries for HBO, making Winters and his men international celebrities.

He stood at the podium with President George W. Bush in Hershey during the presidential campaign in 2004. He accepted the “Four Freedoms” award from Tom Brokaw on behalf of the Army. He consulted with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, producers of the HBO miniseries, as they filmed “Band of Brothers.”

Winters was gracious and reluctant about his sudden celebrity. When people asked him if he was a hero, he would respond, “No, but I served in a company of heroes.”

On Memorial Day in Ephrata, Winters was indeed in the company of heroes. Hundreds of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Middle East joined together to pay tribute to those who had served in every branch of the armed services: Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy.

The centerpiece of the dedication was the 700-pound bronze sculpture of Major Richard D. Winters, which depicts him as he charges forward, with an M1 poised in front.

The statue was sculpted by Stephen Spears and is larger than life &tstr; 1.25 times to be exact. The statue is a replica of a monument dedicated on Utah Beach in Normandy, France in 2012. It came to Ephrata from a foundry in Loveland, Co., purchased for $90,000 through funds raised by the Winters Leadership Memorial Committee.

“This has been our dream,” said committee co-chairman Rebecca Gallagher, who worked with committee members Scott Shelley, Ralph Mowen, Mark Schillaci, Larry Alexander, Randall Usner, Peg Usner, Greg Smith, Bob Martin, Bill Buckingham and Barney Fife, Ty Zerbe, Joan Zerbe, Rich Hurst, Bert Hurst, Vince Fry, Keith Grandstaff, Richard Wert, Karen VonClef and Dawn Mentzer to make it a reality.

The plaza where Winters’ statue stands guard is surrounded by engraved bricks honoring those who served in the military. The total cost of the project was estimated at $150,000, with donations coming from community organizations such as Downtown Ephrata, American Legion Post 429, VFW Post 3376 and Amvets 136, as well as many businesses and individuals. Those donors were listed on the plaque at the Plaza.

Aaron Groff, president and CEO of Ephrata National Bank opened the ceremony, with the presentation of colors by the Red Rose Veterans Honor Guard. It was a touching moment when Ephrata Area High School junior Ethan Fasnacht sang the National Anthem.

Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, while Rev. Jeffrey Goodman did the invocation. Scott Shelley, co-chair of the committee and Ephrata High School football coach, reminded the crowd that, Winters was “the epitome of leadership.”

General Tom Hobbins, an Ephrata High School graduate and highest-ranking military member living in Lancaster County, was “fired up to see this audience.” He thanked all the veterans who had served, some who had returned home wounded or disabled, and those who did not return at all, making the ultimate sacrifice.

“Enjoy your Memorial Day freedoms,” said Hobbins. “They weren’t free.”

A 21-gun salute by the Vet 21 Salute Honor Guard was followed by Taps, as World War II L3 and Korean War L16 vintage planes slowly flew overhead.

Then the mournful sounds of the bagpipe played by Heidi Tylwalk filled the air.

And the words of Harold Mohn’s poem seemed to linger a bit longer.

“Then as the haunting notes of Taps so softly fade away. We say a fond and sad farewell on this Memorial Day.”

Laura Knowles is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

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