"A Not So Merry Christmas in Bastogne 1944"
Two weeks ago our area had a sleet and ice storm and Linda and I were without power, heat, or telephone for 54 hours. The temperature in the house was 50 degrees at one reading. It was handled with four sweaters and several comforters at night. For some reason the past few days I began to recall the event I organized on January 31, 2001 at my Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center when twelve veterans of the Battle of the Bulge were our guests for what we termed a Veterans Forum. I heard their recollections of the fighting in the terrible winter of 1944-1945 after Dec. 16, 1944 when the Germans made their final last ditch effort to attack west to drive to the port of Antwerp, Belgium. At this Christmas 69 years later I recalled their stories and pondered, as my heat is now on, the sky is sunny, and I, with most people in my circles, will enjoy our turkey and pumpkin pies, snug and warm in our homes, what it was like for those heroic Americans who stood against the enemy onslaught protecting us in the cause of freedom against Nazism.
There were three stories I collected to relate in this Chronicle so that, we in our comfort may ever be aware of those who came before us and, who, on this very day, stand against the forces of evil on far away battlegrounds.
Private First Class Eduardo A. Peniche was a member of the 101st Airborne's 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment thrust in to the battle at fabled Bastogne. He had related his story later to his father who said, "How sad and dreadful to experience savage fighting on the day of our Lord." Private Peniche recollected, "...(they were) clinginging to our foxholes in the frozen ground...The attack was on, it was Christmas Day already, lying face down in the bottom of my foxhole, I remembered praying both in English and Spanish. At 0300 the Germans attacked wearing their snow suits." He continued, "To me personally, this was a defining moment of my life as a soldier and as an American, to see well-disciplined courageous fellow soldiers well-motivated to follow orders under the most hellish of circumstances yet, without hesitation, at that very trying moment everyone seemed to know what had to be done and they DID IT...The enemy attack ended in failure...There were also, of course, American casualties, in grotesque forms the death froze in eternity." His battalion was relieved Dec. 26th by the 4th Armored Division of General Patton's Third Army. He also said, "I had my first white Christmas in that small Belgian town, and there were enough lights to last me a life time." He was wounded on Jan. 3, 1945. He died on Aug. 16, 2008 after an illustrious career as an educator at Lone Star College-Kingwood, Texas.
A retired Sergeant Major once was interviewed on a blog and had this to say, "Oh, Lord, it was so cold. On Christmas Day they brought turkey stew to us on the front line. We had to go back from our fighting positions, one at a time, to go get our chow. It was so cold, by the time you'd get back to your fox hole, the turkey stew was frozen in your canteen cup. I have never been so cold in my life, before or after."
Jack T. Pryor, M.D. wrote in Dec. 1972 his recollections as a physician at Bastogne. "The patients who had head, chest, and abdominal wounds could only face certain slow death since there was no chance of surgical procedures....." He went to the airborne area and to a riding hall where he saw, "...the unbelievable! There on the dirt riding floor were six hundred paratroop litter cases."
The Germans conducted continued bombing and strafing raids on Christmas Day.
On January 17, 1945 the most spectacular battle of World War II was over. More than 19,000 Americans were killed and 15,000 were captured. The Americans held their own and repulsed the German attack and went on to victory.
General Courtney Hodges, Commanding General of First Army, once watched as his troops came by with tears in his eyes, "I wish everyone could see them."
There are few of our men from WWII that we can see anymore, but their names are written large in the annals of American history and I, for one, will remember them this Christmas and always. I am wiping away my tears as I conclude this writing.
On our recent trip to England in the Salisbury Cathedral the following is inscribed on a wall titled The Burma Campaign 1941-1945: "When you go home tell them of us and say that for your tomorrow we gave our today." On Christmas Day 2013 look upon your children and grandchildren and remember our warriors who have not returned to the joys we will have with our families.
Allen's previous Chronicles are available at www.combatfaith.blogspot.com
His web site is www.combatfaith.com email@example.com