3 Ways an Elite Soldier Helped Keep Things Together — and how you can, too
An institution you care about deeply is threatened.
It might be a business. A family. A team. A church.
Maybe it’s going through a time of transition. Or perhaps it’s on the verge of falling apart.
Your job—even your calling—is to help the institution through the rough season.
Carwood Lipton, an elite WWII paratrooper and one of the original Band of Brothers of the famed Easy Company, 506 PIR, 101 Airborne, provides a prime example of a leader who held things together during a tension-filled time in history.
Actor Donnie Wahlberg portrayed Carwood in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. When Carwood died in 2001, the New York Times described in a eulogy how Wahlberg portrayed Carwood as “a low-key, dependable member of the company who emerges as a strong leader while a first sergeant in the Battle of Bulge.”
Those who knew Carwood in real life say Wahlberg’s portrayal was spot on. A few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Carwood’s son, Mike Lipton, for my book, A COMPANY OF HEROES. I was also able to pour through sections of unpublished personal journals that Carwood wrote about his wartime years.
A big problem emerged for Easy Company during the wintery Battle of the Bulge. A replacement officer with little frontline combat experience, Lieutenant Norman Dike, was ordered to take over the company. He was widely considered by the men to lack strong leadership qualities. Yet the men had to keep going under his command.
When I reflect on Carwood’s life story, I discover 3 ways he helped hold Easy Company together during that difficult time. We can apply those examples of leadership to our situations today.
1. Fight hard, even though you’ve been wounded before.
Earlier, in the battle for Carentan, Carwood was in the middle of a firefight when a mortar shell dropped vertically, landed about 8 feet in front of him, and exploded.
Shell fragments hit his cheek, arm, and crotch. Carwood wrote: “[Talbert] slit my pants leg up with a knife, took a look, and said, ‘You’re okay.’ What a relief that was. The two shell fragments there had gone into the top of my leg and missed everything important.”
Carwood was taken to a hospital in England where he recuperated for six weeks before rejoining Easy Company prior to their jump into Holland for Operation Market Garden. He is portrayed in the miniseries with a scar on his cheek. During the Battle of the Bulge, Carwood didn’t hang back or slack off.
He fought hard, despite having been wounded before.
In our lives today, too many people get “wounded” then refuse to help in any conflict-filled situation from then on. They decide they can’t face a battle anymore, can’t take the tension, so they permanently pull into self-protective mode.
While it’s true that you need time and care to heal, (and you need to give yourself permission to heal), you also don’t want to waste your woundedness.
Healed wounds, or wounds in process of healthy healing, can make you wiser, more careful the second time around, and better able to sort through difficult situations so you can help people move toward victory and peace.
Have you been wounded before?
Use your experience to help hold things together.
2. Refuse to stoke the fires of criticism.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the men of Easy Company were tasked to hold the line in some of the most difficult situations imaginable.
They were without proper winter clothing, didn’t have enough food and ammunition, and were shellacked by enemy artillery barrages.
Lieutenant Dike, the man who should have been keeping things together, often disappeared. And when he was around, the men say he had little idea of what needed to be done.
The men in the foxholes naturally grumbled against this. But Carwood continually worked to calm the men’s complaints.
Carwood challenged the men to put themselves in Lieutenant Dike’s shoes and see just how hard a job the lieutenant had.
Carwood urged the men to stop griping and keep their focus on the important job at hand.
In our lives today, any tension-filled situation or time of transition will prompt people’s complaints.
A wise leader listens to people as they express sincere problems and concerns, yet he also works to be a peacemaker. He doesn’t heap up the criticisms by adding his own. He encourages empathy. He focuses on solutions.
If you’re in a difficult time, are you adding to the pile of criticism?
Or are you rolling your sleeves up, working on whatever needs to be done?
3. Be an encourager and help keep hope alive.
Carwood could be tough and firm when needed. As a soldier, he always got the job done.
He was this way at home, too. After the war, his son Mike described how his dad “ran the household like a platoon.” If any of the Lipton children got out of line, or if they replied to any question, “Yes Dad,” Carwood would correct his children with, “Yes, Dad, sir.”
“He was definitely the boss,” Mike said.
Yet those who knew Carwood best said he always maintained a remarkable sense of humor. As a father, Carwood made up funny stories for his children at bedtime. His son remembers a wide variety of stories, filled with characters such as cowboys, kids who inexplicably didn’t like ice cream, and the world’s smartest elephant who carried a typewriter with him in the jungle.
“That’s how I’d want people to remember my father,” Mike said to me. “A strong capable leader who had a great sense of humor. He could really keep us all in stitches.”
The veterans I’ve talked to say Carwood was this way with his soldiers too. Not that he told them funny stories, but that he was essentially a positive presence who always worked to keep hope alive.
In our lives today, a conflict-filled time or season of transition is seldom fun. People struggle to maintain vision. Misunderstandings occur. Feelings genuinely get hurt.
Yet maintaining a hope-filled positive perspective can go a long way toward helping keep things together. Even when tough and firm decisions need to be made.
If you’re going through a difficult season, are you always seeing the worst in things or people? Is your perspective tinged with despair or gloom?
Or are you working to keep hope alive?
An unassuming leader
Toward the end of WWII, in the cross-river fight at the city Haguenau, Carwood was wounded again, this time in his neck and cheek by a mortar shell. He went to the aid station, got patched up, and rejoined his unit the same day.
One day later, Captain Dick Winters (who’d soon be a major) awarded Carwood a battlefield commission to second lieutenant.
Carwood’s son told me: “Of my dad’s whole life, I know that that was his proudest moment.”
Pride emerged from one more area. A scene in the miniseries reflects the humility Carwood exhibited in real life. Earlier, smack dab in the middle of the battle of Foy, the strong and capable Lieutenant Ron Spiers was ordered to remove the ineffectual Lieutenant Dike from command and take over as the new company commander of Easy.
The miniseries shows Carwood talking with Speirs afterward about the change of command.
“These men are glad to have you as our C.O.,” Carwood says. “They’re happy to have a good leader again.”
“From what I’ve heard, they’ve always had one,” Spiers says. “I’ve been told there’s always been one man they could count on. He led them into the Bois Jacques. Held them together while they had the crap shelled out of them in the woods. Every day he kept their spirits up, kept the men focused, and gave them direction—all the things a good combat leader does.”
Spiers pauses, looks at Carwood, and adds, “You don’t have any idea who I’m talking about, do you?”
“No sir.” Carwood shakes his head slightly.
“Hell,” Speirs says. “It was you, first sergeant.”
Question: How are you helping to hold things together?