I just read an article that was truly one of the best things I have ever read. It was a WSJ article entitled, “For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel” written by Bryan Gruley. I read this for my Organizational Behavior class so when I started to read it I quickly found it was about WWII. We are learning about leadership, so I immediately thought it was about Major Richard Winters from the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” not Withers, you could see my confusion. I love “Band of Brothers” so I was excited to read it. As I continued to read it I found out it was not what I thought it was, but it was just as good.
It was about Lt. John Withers, a well-educated black man from North Carolina, and his segregated unit of black soldiers. Before the war, Lt. Withers got an undergraduate and masters degree and he was struggling to get his Ph.D. because he could not afford to go back. WWII started and he joined the Army. Near the end of the war the Army started to offer the GI Bill to the soldiers and Lt. Withers was very excited. At that time the Army was segregated so he needed “to keep his record clean.” The next thing that happened ended up changing his whole life.
Lt. Withers was introduced to two former Jewish-Refugee teenagers from Dachau prison, Peewee and Salomon (their American Nicknames). The men in Lt. Withers’ unit took the boys in and gave them jobs in return for food, shelter, and friendship. This was a bad scenario for Lt. Withers because “sheltering Dachau refugees might get him a dishonorable discharge – and then there would be no GI Bill for him.” He ultimately decided to “keep them.” This was something that his troops really wanted and he said he did want to be “on the wrong side of the decision.”
Lt. Withers’ decision was one of the most unselfish acts of true leadership and kindness I have ever heard. Lt. Withers ended up raising Peewee and Salomon back to health and they went their separate ways not to talk again for almost 60 years. This story has truly a happy ending Lt. Withers and Peewee were finally reacquainted after 60 years. They both followed their dreams and became truly successful they were great husbands, parents and grandparents.