This time of year I always tend to think about family and soldiers, which leads me to history. Being a person who really likes to read history, the Battle of the Bulge pops into mind because I had an uncle who was in it.
My uncle, Dan Kirkland, was in the 110th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division stationed in eastern Belgium during the late 1944.
Of course as veterans of the war, their families, and other people who like to read history know, the front wasn’t very quiet.
German attacks began on Dec. 16, so this is the 64th anniversary of the battle. Dan’s battalion was overrun. My grandparents received a telegram stating that he was missing in action.
That’s hard for most people to fathom. Bad news like that is delivered in person today. Even when the Vietnam War started the military services were still using the telegram system.
Fortunately for my family, and especially for my cousins who would not be here otherwise, Dan reached American lines after a couple of weeks. He was very fortunate. Soldiers from a Field Artillery observation battery were captured and murdered at Malmedy.
At least 86 died. Malmedy sticks with me because the father-in-law of a first sergeant of mine was one of the few survivors.
The Americans stopped the German attack thanks to the heroic action of lots of determined men from many different units.
People know about the 101st Airborne Division’s stand at Bastogne, but they did not win the battle alone. Even though hit by overwhelming force, the front line units delayed the Germans long enough for the units rearward to set up a defense. Engineers set up obstacles on roads.
Infantrymen and soldiers of every specialty simply refused to be beaten and fought back at towns and villages throughout the region.
Soldiers dug foxholes in the frozen ground and exacted a terrible toll on the attacking Germans.
Good planning and a remarkable sense of the battlefield on a grand scale set up George Patton to show his value in a tough fight.
His ability to shift the III Corps axis of attack in order to relieve Bastogne coupled with the clearing weather (with some credit to the prayer by Patton’s chaplain) ensured that the German attack would fail and ultimately be a disaster — many men and much equipment squandered on a gamble.
When the 4th Armored Division reached the Bastogne perimeter on Dec. 26, the German failure was clear.
Many days of hard fighting remained before the bulge was closed, but the tenacity of the American soldiers had overcome the shock of the unexpected attack.
I always think about this in December because I’ve dragged my family around the much Battle of the Bulge battlefield, especially from Clervaux to Bastogne and to Malmedy.
Whenever I’m cold, my mind drifts to thinking about soldiers who are cold but still persevere in whatever they are doing.
That helps warm me up a bit. The American soldier has proven himself time and again. No obstacle is too great.
They’ll keep fighting for victory as long as we give them a chance.