Over the past 10 years, I’ve interviewed 260+ American World War II veterans. Dozens have spoken of the bitter battle fought between Allied and German forces in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium beginning December 16, 1944 through January 1945. The six weeks (some accounts say it lasted longer) became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
The personal accounts of these soldiers amaze me. How any of them survived the sub-zero temperatures, constant snow, ice, sleeping outside, frostbite and lack of food and attacks by the enemy I’ll never know.
Their fortitude was so inspiring that I’ve pulled stories and related information together to write a book to help 21st century people understand what it was like to be part of one of the world’s greatest battles. This compilation will be released in spring 2021. More information to come.
Here is an excerpt:
December 16, 1944
Under the moonlight John Wearly grimaced at the black rings pockmarking the Currier & Ives landscape. The fog’s thick shroud could not disguise signs of the exploding mortar that had rocked his world and that of thousands of other Allied soldiers that morning.
Crouched under a stand of pine trees, Wearly scanned the snowy mountainous hillside, his body as sluggish as the soupy fog that settled in the long valley of fields at Losheim Gap.
Had it really been less than a day since the tranquility of the Ardennes Forest was pierced by thousands of German troops and panzer tanks storming through an Allied section of troops?
That morning, before daybreak, artillery shells had screamed down on the sleepy-eyed troops, mostly replacements, who stumbled from makeshift shelters before daybreak. During the hellish confusion that ensued, Allied officers tried to restore order to form a counteroffensive. But many of the young men, too inexperienced to hold their ground, surrendered.
During the onslaught, Private Wearly became separated from his unit, Company M, 39th Infantry, 99th Division. He had stayed hidden throughout the day among the trees, desperate to find his way back to Allied front lines.
Now cold and hungry, he felt at times the shadows threatened him with death. Earlier Wearly thought he had detected movement among the trees. Could it have been German ski troopers in white winter uniforms?
The urge to stomp his frozen feet nearly overcame him and Wearly tried to distract himself.
With snow falling around him, Wearly’s thoughts strayed to home and past Christmases with warm fires, feasts, and family sings. His mother would have hung a wreath on the front door and in the front room a tall tree, branches heavy with handmade ornaments, would stand sentry while embers from a glowing fire burned in the fireplace.
From her letters Wearly knew his mother spent each evening nestled on the sofa, knitting needles in hand, hoping to mail his latest pair of socks in time for Christmas. ‘Mom doesn’t know the slowness of the American military mail system,’ he thought.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Wearly had worked at a factory in Huntington, Indiana, constructing 20-millimeter anti-aircraft shells. The job had deferred him from active service. But factory work had bored Wearly who wanted to teach. He quit the factory job to enroll in education courses at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Uncle Sam promptly rescinded his deferment and drafted Wearly into the United States Army.
Now, in the dark, dreary, cold night Wearly wondered if he would ever see his home and family again.”
This book will include stories of other men who served sacrificially and with dedication. We need to all think about the sacrifices our veterans have made for us. What are we willing to do for them?
I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!