are planned by old men in the comfort of council rooms far from
the field of battle.
was the 16th of September 1944.
Hitler had summoned a group of his senior officers to his study
in the huge, underground bunker called the Wolf's Lair, Hitler's
secret headquarters hidden deep underground in a pine forest in
summoned were his closest and most trusted military advisors.
them there was only one who wore the red stripes of the German
General Staff on his uniform. He was the head of the Operations
Staff of the High Command of the Wehrmacht, General Alfred Jodl.
officers were waiting when Hitler entered. Looking considerably
older than his fifty-four years, he was still recovering from
the injuries he had received in the assassination attempt on his
life two months earlier. His shoulders were sagging, his face
was drawn and drained of color and his skin had turned yellow,
as if he had jaundice. He had a ruptured eardrum and at times he
had an uncontrollable twitching of his right arm.
taking his seat, Hitler instructed Jodl to sum up the situation
on the Western Front. Jodl first noted that the strength of the
opposing forces heavily favored the Western Allies.
the past three months the Germans had suffered more than a
million casualties and over half of them had been in the West.
Jodl noted that there was one area of particular concern where
the Germans had almost no troops. That area was the region of
Belgium and Luxembourg called the Ardennes.
the word 'Ardennes', Hitler suddenly said, "Stop the
briefing!" There was a long pause and a strained silence
permeated the room. The silence was finally broken when Hitler,
reminiscent of his once-moving and powerful rhetoric said.
"I have made a momentous decision!"
voice belied the weakened condition of his body, his blue eyes
sparkled and were alight with a fervor that no one had seen
since the attempt on his life. He pointed to the map unrolled on
the desk before him and boldly announced, "I shall go on
the offensive here!" And he slapped his hand down on the
map. "Here, out of the Ardennes! The objective is
Antwerp!" Those assembled sat in stunned silence.
those words Hitler set in motion preparations for a battle that
was to assume epic proportions - the greatest German attack in
the West since the Campaign of 1940.
charging Jodl and his staff with preparing a detailed plan of
operations, Hitler emphasized secrecy. Everyone who knew of the
plan, from field marshals to clerks and typists, had to sign a
pledge of secrecy. The penalty for a loose tongue was death.
Hitler himself was less than discreet. When the Japanese
Ambassador, Baron Oshima, called on him at the Wolf's Lair
Hitler was very candid with him. A day later, Ambassador Oshima
reported the conversation to his government in Tokyo.
mid-1941, the United States had been intercepting and decrypting
Japanese diplomatic traffic. Oshima's report that Hitler was
"planning a large-scale offensive operation in the West to
start sometime after the first of November" was on the
desks of intelligence officers in the Pentagon almost as soon as
it reached the Foreign Office in Tokyo.
very gradually, the German commanders who would direct the
battle were told of the plan, a few at a time. The operation
would be launched along a sixty-mile front from Monschau in the
north to the medieval town of Echternach in the south. On the
eve of the battle, near the medieval town of Echternach, a
glamorous German-born film star, Marlene Dietrich, the star of a
USO troupe, was entertaining the American troops. In a deep,
sultry voice she sang "Lili Marlene" to the raucous
applause of hundreds of GI's.
the German side of the line, in assembly areas across the Front,
German commanders read a message from Field Marshal von
Rundstedt. The message began as follows: "Soldiers of the
West Front! You great hour has arrived! We attack at dawn!"
the early morning hours of 16 December, the tramping sound of
hobnailed jack boots broke the stillness of that cold, silent
night as Nazi troopers with visions of past glory strutted upon
the field of battle as they marched to the line of departure and
formed into assault formations.
was personally directing his grand offensive from the Adlerhorst,
an underground bunker located amid the wooded
hills of Taunus. At the Adlerhorst, the door of the cuckoo clock
hanging on the wall opened and the cuckoo bird came out and
announced that the hour of destiny had arrived.
split-second after five thirty a.m., an American soldier in the
28th Division, manning an observation post high on top of a
water tower in the village of Hosingen, frantically turned the
crank on his field telephone. He reported to his Company
Commander that in the distance on the German side he could see a
strange phenomenon - countless flickering pinpoints of light
piercing the darkness of the early morning fog and mist. Within
a few seconds both he and his Company Commander had an
explanation. They were the muzzle flashes of over 2,000 German
early morning stillness of the fog-shrouded forest was suddenly
shattered with the thunderclap of a massive artillery barrage
landing on the Americans. The onslaught had begun.
German code name for the Operation was AUTUMN MIST.
Americans called it the BATTLE OF THE BULGE.
Battle of the Bulge lasted from the 16th of December 1944 until
the 25th of January 1945. More than a million men participated
in this battle. It was to become the greatest battle ever fought
by the United States Army.
16th of December was indelibly stamped in the memory of the
Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower.
that morning Eisenhower received notification of his promotion
to the rank of five stars, General of the Army.
that morning he received a signal from Field Marshal Montgomery.
Montgomery requested permission to return to England for the
Christmas Holidays since all was quiet on the Western Front.
from these activities, Eisenhower had something special he was
looking forward to that day. His old Army buddy, General Omar
Bradley was coming back from his Army Group Headquarters to
spend the night at Eisenhower's Headquarters. Eisenhower had
prepared a special treat for his old friend Brad.
advantage of a plane flying in from Washington Eisenhower had
ordered a bushel of oysters. Eisenhower loved oysters and he
planned a special dinner for his old friend. Dinner would begin
with oysters on the half-shell, then oyster stew followed by
fried oysters as the main course.
the fading light of a wintery sunset, the two Commanders and
several of their staff officers were discussing the major
problem at hand, the diversion of replacements by Washington
from the European Theater to the Far East. A colonel from the
Intelligence Section tiptoed into the discussion with the first
wisp of information about the battle.
announced that the Germans had secured penetrations at five
points along General Middleton's VIII Corps Front. A review of
the operations map revealed that there were two U. S. Armored
Divisions out of the line. After much discussion Eisenhower, who
alone of those assembled had the benefit of the intercepts of
Baron Oshima's reports to Tokyo, believed it might be more than
a spoiling attack and said, "I think we had better send
Middleton some help. Send the two Armored Divisions." In
the dinner that followed it almost went unnoticed that Bradley
was allergic to oysters and had to be served
"powdered" eggs instead.
from the comfort of the council rooms of the high-ranking
generals and field marshals was the soldier on the front line.
As the last rays of daylight fell dim and purple on the
snow-covered hills of the Ardennes, there were no oysters on the
half-shell for Willie and Joe and their comrades on the front
lines that night. The order of the day for them was man's first
law — Self-Preservation.
were dry-mouthed and their bowels churned with fear as masses of
German troopers dressed in greatcoats emerged through the veil
of the early-morning fog and mist and charged towards them like
men possessed. Low in their foxholes, they prayed to the Lord
and the enemy discovered the fury of their rifles.
real story of the Battle of the Bulge is the story of these
soldiers and the intense combat action of the small units - the
squads, the platoons and the companies, and the soldiers who
filled their ranks. For the most part they were children of the
'20s. Citizen soldiers, draftees, young men, hardly more than
boys. Raised during the Great Depression, they did not
experience the carefree days of childhood. They watched as the
worry and stress of the times wrinkled their mothers' faces.
They watched as the dust storms, the stock market crash and the
breadlines humbled their fathers, impoverished their families
and dashed their hopes and dreams of the future.
as the Depression receded, the world staggered into war and they
received a letter from their local Draft Boards:
"Greetings! Orders to Report for Induction".
by the clarion call to arms, they came from across the land,
from the farms and the factories, from their offices
and schools, from the sidewalks of New York to the shores of San
Francisco they came. They raised their right hands and pledged
their sacred honor to defend their country. In their youth their
hearts were touched by the flame of patriotism.
tough, and tempered as hard as steel in the crucible of the
Great Depression, these men were as tough as the times in which
they were raised. These are the men who made up the fighting
strength of the divisions, carried out the orders of the
generals and engaged the Germans in mortal combat.
were battalion commanders and company commanders - young, lean
and tough, battle-wise and toil-worn. They were second
lieutenants, newly-minted officers and gentlemen, some still
sporting peach fuzz on their upper lips - too young to require a
razor. They were grizzly NCOs with faces chiseled and gaunt from
the gnawing stress of battle and the rigors of a soldier's life
in combat. They were seasoned troopers - scroungy and unkempt
but battle-hardened and competent, and disciplined in the
automatic habits of war never learned in school. Around their
necks hung their dog tags and rosaries. On their heads were
their steel pots and in the pocket next to their heart was a
picture, the picture of their girl back home.
stunned and not understanding what was happening to him, the
American soldier found himself in a situation that was as
confusing as trying to read a compass in a magnet factory.
Nevertheless, he held fast until he was overwhelmed by the
German onslaught, or until his commanders ordered him to
battle was very personal for them. Concerned with the fearful
and consuming task of fighting and staying alive, these men did
not think of the battle in terms of the 'Big Picture'
represented on the situation maps at higher headquarters. They
knew only what they could see and hear in the chaos of the
battle around them. They knew and understood the earth for which
they fought, the advantage of holding the high ground and the
protection of the trench or foxhole. They could distinguish the
sounds of the German weffers and the screaming sound of incoming
German 88s. And they knew the fear of having German artillery
rounds falling like raindrops around them without pattern in the
the soldiers in their foxholes listened to the sounds of the
symphony of war around them, they were reassured by the bass
section as the low pitch of friendly cannons roared and
thundered to that 1944 overture.
were reassured by the sudden stabs of flame through the darkness
of night as friendly artillery tubes belched tongues of fire
into the air, spreading a glow of flickering light above the
blackened trees of the snow-covered forest. They knew the
overwhelming loneliness of the battlefield, the feeling of
despair, confusion and uncertainty that prevails in units in
retreat. They knew that feeling of utter exhaustion - the
inability of the soldier's flesh and blood to continue on - yet
they must, or die. They knew first hand the violent pounding of
the heart, the cold sweat, the trembling of the body and the
stark terror that mortal combat brings. It was a hell that had
to be endured and they endured it.
Mother Nature was their enemy with bitterly cold weather. The
ground was frozen solid. The skies were gray and overcast. The
days were short -daylight at 8 and darkness by 4. The nights
were long and frigid and snow knee-deep covered the battlefield.
GIs, their bodies numb, were blue-lipped and chilled to the
night the German ground assault was assisted by artificial
moonlight created by giant German search lights bouncing their
lights off the low-hanging clouds. The night sky was aflame with
shimmering lights and pulsating patterns casting an eerie,
ghostly light in the fog and mist over the snow-covered field of
the chips were down and the situation was desperate, the
American soldier, molded in the adversity of the Great
Depression, proved to be unusually adept at taking charge of the
situation and 'going into business for himself' on the
battlefield. The GI's on that battlefield - they were craftier
than crows in a cornfield.
are the soldiers who, when their officers lay dead and their
sergeants turned white, held the enemy at bay in the days when
the heavens were falling and the battlefield was in flames with
all the fire and noise humanly possible for over a million
warriors to create.
a brief moment in history these men held our nation's destiny in
their hands. They did not fail us. They blew the trumpets that
tumbled the walls. Theirs was the face of victory. Super heroes
- super patriots. Their legacy - victory in the greatest battle
ever fought by the United States Army.
the cost of victory was high. There on that cold, brutal field
of battle, 19,000 young Americans answered the Angel's trumpet
call and had their rendezvous with death. Heroes, sacrificed on
the altar of the god of war whose valor in many cases died
unrecognized with them on the field of battle.
we look into the mirror of the past and we remember them. In the
muffled cadence of memory only they go marching by and we salute
them. We hear the echo from those years long ago as the drum
beats the long, slow roll of the
soldier's last tattoo and the bugler blows the sad and bitter
notes of Taps.
home in America, Western Union telegraph lines hummed with those
dreaded messages of sadness, "The Secretary of War regrets
to inform you". Telegrams that forever shattered the lives
of the innocent, bringing tears and sadness to homes across our
land. Aged mothers and the youthful wives must bear the burden
of grief throughout the remainder of their lives.
23,000 American soldiers were captured during the heat of
them, John Morse who is with us today, a member of the 106th
Division, whose unit fought courageously for two days before
being overrun, prisoners of war who staggered in tattered
columns as they were marched to German stalags. There they were
forced to serve behind barbed wire in silence and with courage,
each in his own way until the war's end.
Hearts were awarded by the thousands. The bleeding wounds of
81,000 young Americans stained the snow and left the 'red badge
of courage' on that blood soaked field of battle.
amid the serene hills of the Ardennes to this very day reposes
the dust of American soldiers listed as "missing and
unaccounted for" from that battle. Those known only to God
who were left behind, never to return. There on that field of
battle they perished and disappeared as though they had never
been born. History cannot record their deeds for it knows not
even their names.
we muster here today, we pay tribute to all those brave young
warriors who served with honor and won that battle. We are
reminded of what their journey through life has left behind for
warriors of the greatest generation, a generation who is taking
their final curtain calls and soon will leave the stage of life,
have passed "Old Glory" on to the next generation
unsoiled, their swords untarnished their legacy a great nation
under God, with liberty, justice and freedom for all.
at these old warriors gathered here today - they are yesterday's
heroes. They were soldiers once and young, the vibrant youth of
that time - men who were there on that battlefield 59 years ago.
like Arnold Snyder and Richard Schreier. Heroes who have
received the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action during that
F. Irzyk, a twenty-seven year old Tank Battalion Commander who
"rode up front" for Patton as they raced 150 miles
under the severest of winter conditions in their valiant effort
to relieve Bastogne.
Barasso and George Fisher, members of the 26th Division - the
Yankee Division - protecting the right flank of the 4th Armored
Division in its famous drive to relieve Bastogne.
Jasmund, William Freedman, and Dean Grosso, "those damned
engineers", an accolade from German SS Colonel Peiper about
our engineers for blowing bridges and building obstacles at
every turn and bend in the road, obstacles that stopped the
advance of his SS Panzer column.
Ott, a Pathfinder in the 101st Airborne Division, one of three
survivors in his unit. Jack is a proud airborne trooper who led
his unit in the defense of Bastogne. There, his unit stood as
immovable as soldiers in a painted picture as the band of
brothers stood like the rock of ages and they laid a wreath of
steel and fire around the town of Bastogne. Before them the
German onslaught wavered, then withered on the vine.
of Mercy - nurses such as Lieutenant Evelyn Gilberg. Evelyn, an
Army nurse, went to sleep at night haunted by memories of the
mangled bodies of the young American soldiers she had cared for
in the field hospital that day. So ghastly were their wounds,
that death was little more. Wounded men were crying for help
from everywhere while others who were dying offered God their
men and others like them are the soldiers who, in the hours when
the earth's foundation shook and the ground did tremble, stood
their ground amid the whine of bullets and the roar of the
bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged
scar, a certain faraway look in the eye. Others may carry the
evidence inside them: a steel pin holding a bone together or a
piece of shrapnel still in a leg or an arm.
they all bear another kind of inner steel, a spirit forged with
their comrades on that field of battle. The spirit of a band of
warriors called Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Veterans
bound together with a bond as strong as right itself and as
lasting as their lifetime.
their fellow warriors on that field of battle, they followed
duty's call and lived the code of the soldier: duty, honor,
them the Nazis' visions of glory drifted away like the sound and
fury of battle. When the smoke had cleared more than 120,000
enemy soldiers lay stiff in the snow, wounded or captured, and
over 800 enemy tanks were left burning and rusting in the wooded
hills of the Ardennes.
BULGE WAS NO MORE..
the bells of liberty did ring and peace spread her lovely mantle
softly over the land. The lights came on again all over.
duty done, with their sabers in the scabbards placed and their
colors furled away, their dreams turned to the journey home, the
harbor lights of New York and their girl they left behind. Their
place in history was secured as the greatest generation, the
generation that saved the sum of all things we hold dear. All
this for love of their country and the meager pay of a soldier.
Ask yourselves now - with heads bowed - from where, Oh God came
such men as these? Our country was truly blessed.
Ardennes woods are silent now,
battle smoke has fled.
years and nine have passed.
... only memories … and the dead.
God bless each of you and may God bless the United States of