It's just a simple gravestone in the cemetery of a small, rural Lancaster County church, but it draws worldwide attention.

Since his burial in the Bergstrasse Evangelical Lutheran Church cemetery near Ephrata in early January, the grave of Maj. Richard D. Winters has been visited by hundreds of people from as far away as Holland and China. And many have left small tokens of respect.

"I stop here every two weeks, and I have a guy who comes by every week," Lyman Hainley, who is in charge of the cemetery, said. "And we remove things every time."

Winters, who was born in Lancaster County, commanded Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, during World War II. He and his men gained international fame through the HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers," produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

In addition to eight small American flags that dot the grave - one supplied by the local VFW, the other seven by visitors - mementos include parachute jump wings, military badges, 101st Airborne patches and pins, a Star of David necklace, Army Ranger patches, a first lieutenant bar and flowers.

There also is a small flag inscribed with the words: "From Band of Brothers, Belgium & the Netherlands."

Also prevalent are rubber bracelets stating "Hang Tough" (Winters' favorite bit of advice) and sold by Jordan Brown of Lebanon to raise funds for a Dick Winters statue in St. Marie du Mont, France.

Some visitors leave notes on business cards, such as one from Keith Dolan of Edinburgh, Scotland, that reads, "I'm here with my family from Scotland. I had to come to pay my respects. You are an inspiration to me and are a brave, brave man. Thank you."

Gerry Nieuwhof, formerly of Eindhoven, Holland, but now living in Perth, Australia, sent a flag and a poem commemorating the day he and his hometown were liberated by Winters on Sept. 18, 1944.

"I have sent my messenger from a land far away, to give you thanks for my liberation day. As long as I live I will remember, the day you came in the month of September. We looked up at you in your C-47s, and watched you drift down like angels from heaven. Thank you from me, my family and others. Thank you, Major Winters, and your Band of Brothers."

Hainley has removed more than 30 flags, including one from China that was badly damaged by a storm.

He said that anywhere from 12 to 15 people a week stroll the cemetery, looking for the grave.

"There always seems to be someone walking around, looking for the grave," he said. "It's non-stop. It's like Gettysburg."

To avoid unwelcome publicity, Winters, who died Jan. 2, was buried in a family plot in strict privacy a few days later. Only seven mourners, all immediate family, were at the graveside. Days later, Hainley saw two men standing by the grave.

"I asked if they had a problem finding it, and they said no, it was all over the Internet," Hainley said. "That's how quickly it spread."

In fact, the grave has become exactly what the family had hoped it wouldn't - a shrine. Still, the fact that it has drawn so much attention benefits other veterans buried there, a fact that would please Winters.

"After they leave Winters' grave, they seem to be intrigued by what other military veterans are buried here," Hainley said. "Wherever they see a flag, they drift toward it. So Major Winters is responsible for having tribute paid to other veterans who are buried here."

Because the church was founded in 1752, some of those graves contain men who fought for American independence.

The church also benefits. Recently, a new flagpole was installed, but the church did not have a flag for it. A man from Virginia, visiting Winters' grave, noticed it. He contacted the church and offered to donate a flag.

"He told us, 'Whenever you need a new flag, call me and I will send a flag to you because of Major Winters,'" Hainley said.

Hainley is saving the items left on the grave and plans to display them inside the church. He hopes to dedicate both a display case and the new flagpole next month, possibly around Veterans Day.

lalexander@lnpnews.com