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Ephrata honors the late Dick Winters and all veterans

Written by Tim Lambert, witf Multimedia News Director | May 26, 2015 2:20 AM

(Ephrata) -- Just three years ago, one of the world's most famous World War Two veterans was honored in Normandy, France.

Now, Major Dick Winters, midstate native and leader of the Band of Brothers, has come home.

The name Dick Winters invokes so many things to so many people -- humility, loyalty, leadership, larger than life.

But to 98-year-old Harold Mohn, Winters was a dear friend.

"I don't think we ever discussed the military all that much," he says. "We discussed ordinary things. He'd answer any question I'd ask him, but he'd never bring up the subject of the war."

Mohn's friendship with the major stretched back before the Stephen Ambrose book, Band of Brothers. Before the HBO miniseries of the same name. Before anyone knew Dick Winters led Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry (PIR) of the 101st Airborne Division.

Try 40 years.

"The odd part was he worked for Whitmoyer Laboratories at one time and my home adjoined the Whitmoyer Laboratory Office. I saw Dick every day, but never knew who he was," he says. "Nobody paid attention to him at that time. Until Ambrose wrote that book. You might say he was unknown, just a quiet farmer."

Mohn who lives in Myerstown, Lebanon County, is a poet as well as a World War Two veteran himself  -- with five battle stars for serving in campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, central Europe, the Ardennes and the Rhineland.

He only talks about the war when someone asks him about it.

But on Memorial Day, he can't help but think about what he saw and experienced.

"My thoughts always go back to those we left behind," he says. "Never forget them."

Mohn was among the more than 750 people on hand for dedication of the  Ephrata Veteran's Plaza and Major Richard Winters Leadership Memorial.   

The statue is an exact replica of the one unveiled in 2012 more than 3,500 miles away in Normandy, France,  honoring all junior U.S. officers whose leadership on June 6, 1944, helped establish an Allied foothold in Europe.

But early in the plannning process, Winters' daughter and some in the World War Two community protested a second statue being built -- saying it would go against the famously humble man's wishes.

One of the major's closest friends, Lebanon architect Bob Hoffman, says he believes Winters would have remained aloof about the project, but has little doubt he eventuall would have come around and approved of it.

"Winters always deflected honors that were directed his way, but he accepted the spotlight if it brought with it a focus on his E-Company and the American fighting man it represented," he tells the crowd.

The statue and veteran's plaza sit at the beginning of a memorial trail that already bears the name of  Easy Company's leader, who passed away in January 2011.

To Hoffman, they will combine to preserve something pretty valuable for generations to come.

"Perhaps a family will come this way and a young child looking at this memorial will ask, 'Who is this man and why is he here?' When that happens, the legacy of Dick Winters, his beloved Easy Company and the legacy of all the veterans who have served this country, including theoseso terribly wounded and the one million who have given their all, will live again and their story will fill the hearts of generations yet unborn," he says. "This, after all was the hope, the life-long hope of Dick Winters. It is why he would have saluted this memorial."

It's something Ephrata High School Football Coach Scott Shelley has already thought about.

"What better way to inspire young people to be successful members of their communities than by sharing with them the wisdom of a person from their own community, who was not much different from themselves," he says. "Major Winters is not only a role model for our youth, but also for youth everywhere who are in need of heros to emulate."

Shelley served as one of the co-chairs on the effort to ensure the Veteran's plaza and Winters statue became a reality in the community.

"All the other men and women commermorated here have displayed courage, leadership, integrity, character, discipline, determination, responsibility. All the attributes necessary to live a successful and meaningful life," he says. "Every year, I plan to bring our team to visit this place of honor, in order to learn from their example."

Soon, the students Shelley plans to bring to the Veteran's Plaza will no longer be able to hear stories about Iowa Jima, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge first-hand.

In the not-too-distant future, veterans from the Second World War Two  -- like Harold Mohn -- will no longer be attending Memorial Day events.

The baton will be passed from one generation of warriors to another -- from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The organizers behind the effort are hopeful having the Winters statue as a centerpiece will raise awareness about the community's veterans and the sacrifices made -- in times of ward and in times of peace.

The Veteran's Plaza and Winters Leadership Memorial project has raised more than $160,000 -- about $10,000 more than what was estimated.

About 90 percent of the donors came from central Pennsylvania and the  extra funds will go toward a maintenance account for the statue and potentially, veterans' programs in the region.


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