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Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
Eric Poole is a reporter and columnist for the Ellwood City (Pa.) Ledger, a small newspaper nestled near the Ohio state line in the heart of Steelers Country. He has a wife, a son and a daughter (so there will be some daddy stuff on this blog). A former steelworker and retired rugby player, Poole has a wide range of interests, which was reflected in the 2008 Pennsylvania Newspaper Association awards, when Poole won first-prize honors for best columns and best special project. His upcoming book, "Company of Heroes," due out March 17, 2015, from Osprey Publishing, tells the story of Vietnam War hero Leslie Sabo and his comrades. Sabo was awarded the Medal of Honor May 16, 2012, in a White House ceremony.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lost "Brother" embodied military's virtues

This column appeared originally on Jan. 27 in the Ellwood City Ledger, but was never posted on the paper's website due to an editorial oversight.

There’s a scene in the first episode of “Band of Brothers” where Richard Winters where he reprimands another officer, Lynn “Buck” Compton, for gambling with the enlisted men.

Compton, who would one day lead the prosecution Sirhan Sirhan for the assassination of Robert Kennedy, thinks Winters – a religious tea-totaling non-gambler – is objecting on moral grounds. But that’s not the case.

“What if you’d won?” Winters asks, which temporarily baffles Compton. “Don’t ever put yourself in a position to take anything from these men.”

Winters, who died Jan. 2 just three weeks short of his 93rd birthday, distinguished himself as a young man during World War II. But fame found him late in life when he wound up as the hero of Ambrose’s book, “Band of Brothers,” and the follow-on Emmy-award-winning television miniseries of the same title.

In the anecdote above, Winters demonstrates a concept known to Christians as servant leadership – exemplified by Jesus when he washed the feet of his apostles.

During the invasion of Normandy, as depicted in the book and on TV, Winters led a force of 13 men in a successful assault on an artillery emplacement that was targeting American troops landing in the Normandy Utah sector. The guns were defended by 50 entrenched German paratroopers.

Earlier that day, Winters had taken command of Easy Company – of 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division – because the plane that was to have dropped the company commander in Normandy was shot down, and everyone on board was killed.

Winters received the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military’s second-highest award, for combat valor for leading the attack. It’s probably not a coincidence that, going by the words of those who served under his command, he was the most widely respected of the Band of Brothers.

But where it relates to Winters, “Band of Brothers” wasn’t just a story of one exceptional soldier, but of a philosophy that has yielded an exceptional military. It wasn’t many years before World War II that the world’s armies parceled out officer’s status based on noble title.

It wasn’t uncommon, for example, command of a regiment to fall upon the man who provided the funds to outfit that regiment, which produced a mentality of entitlement on the part of military leadership.

In his book, Ambrose sets up Easy Company’s World War II battles as not just a clash of military forces, but one of systems, of American democracy and meritocracy against European tradition and aristocracy.

Winters matched wits and guts against German officers who won their commissions in many cases because their grandfathers happened to be barons. The German infantry were exhorted to fight for their country and social betters, while their American counterparts were compelled to battle for their comrades.

And the American system that Winters embodied proved superior, Ambrose wrote in summing up the 101st Airborne Division's heroic stand at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

“It was a test of arms, will, and national systems, matching the best the Nazis had with the best the Americans had, with all the advantages on the German side … Democracy proved better able to produce young men who could be made into superb soldiers than Nazi Germany.”

A long time ago, Winters was one of those young men produced by that system. And the legacy of those young men is that in America, a nation created from the rejects of those European aristocracies, the American armed services are exceptional in large part because it embraces command the same way Winters did – as an obligation and a duty rather than a privilege to be exploited.

Eric Poole can be reached online at

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