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Pa. native remembered on 80th anniversary of D-Day

A statue of a person in the military in France.
Tim Lambert
Lancaster County's Dick Winters is memorialized with a statue in Normandy, France, that pays tribute to all junior officers who participated in the D-day invasion that ultimately led to the Allied World War II victory in Europe.

Dick Winters’ actions on June 6, 1944, made the Ephrata man one of the world’s most famous soldiers as the leader of the “Band of Brothers” — a company of 101st Airborne paratroopers immortalized in a book and an HBO mini-series.

Then a 1st Lieutenant, Winters led a group of soldiers on an assault of four German artillery pieces at Brecourt Manor.

It was near Utah Beach, one of the beaches where Allied troops were coming ashore in the early hours of D-Day.

Now, a new archaeological dig is taking place on the grounds of the manor, led by a professor from the University of Bordeaux Montaigne. The effort is an attempt to learn more about the assault by Winters’ Easy Company. Alexis Gorgues, a lecturer in protohistoric archaeology, says an excavation of the site in 2011 didn’t turn up much.

“Our research question concerns the shape of the German battery, the identity of the German unit serving and defending the guns, the dynamics of the assault, the uses of the site after the fighting,” Gorgues said in an email.

Historian Paul Woodadge — who lives in Normandy — says the “eternal debate” is if the German guns were in a straight line, or an L-shape, in a field bordered by trees. Gorgues said, “Establishing this shape is fundamental for understanding the maneuver of the U.S. paratroopers.”

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Woodadge said he questions “whether there’s actually anything to find out there that is radically gonna change our interpretation of what happened there.”

Gorgues said the dig began in 2022, paused the following year and resumed this year. He said his team hopes to continue the work into 2025.

So far, he said, “We found remains linked with combat, with artillery activity, and with the later field hospital.”

Woodadge says he understands the fascination with Easy Company’s place in popular culture.

But, he says, as exceptional as Winters was, hundreds like him were products of the same system, and he hopes people will use the anniversary to learn more about the Allies’ victory in the Battle of Normandy.

“…what (Winters) did at Brecourt Manor was great, but it was textbook. It was straight out of the training manuals of how you attack a fixed position, which is how you would do it.

“I’d like people to think of June the 6th as being the first chapter of many, as opposed to a chapter that ends on June the 6th,” he said.

Woodadge knew Easy Company veterans Wild Bill Guarnere and Don Malarkey, for example, and “They would be the first to tell you to widen out” and look at other aspects of the battle.

“836,000 Americans came ashore on Utah Beach between June and November 1944. The great majority did not see any action on June the 6th, because that was the first day. They’re fighting for Cherbourg, Saint Lô, they’re fighting later on (in) the Hürtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge…”

A ditch in the woods.
Tim Lambert
Lancaster County's Dick Winters used this ditch to approach and observe four German artillery guns in a field in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He then led a group of paratroopers in an assault that disabled the guns, which were threatening U.S. troops on Utah Beach a few miles away.

It wasn’t just Americans. Woodadge — who runs WW2TV on YouTube — says a prime example of a lesser-known story is the role of the Polish First Armoured Division near the end of the Normandy campaign.

In late August, near the city of Falaise, British, Canadian and U.S. troops encircled Germans who were fleeing east toward Paris. But the Poles were instrumental in closing what’s known as the Falaise Gap.

“They are absolutely fundamentally preventing huge numbers of Germans from escaping from the Battle of Falaise in August on the 20th and 21st,” Woodadge said, “and dozens of these guys fell in and around their Sherman tanks, sealing the Battle of Normandy, bringing the Battle of Normandy to an end, and people just don’t know about that story.”

Just days later, the Allies liberated Paris.

Some 1,213 Pennsylvanian’s buried or listed on the walls of the missing at the 172-acre Normandy American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach — the most of any state represented in those hallowed grounds.

“So, it’s great that Band of Brothers brought people to the subject,” Woodadge said, “but people mustn’t just stop with Band of Brothers … It’s an illustration of a wider story.”

Read more from our partners, WITF.