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DADDY WARBUCKS
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Sixty years ago at dawn
Paul Greenberg (archive)


December 16, 2004 | Print | Send


On December 16, 1944, General Bradley came to my headquarters to discuss ways and means of overcoming our acute shortages in infantry replacements. Just as he entered my office, a staff officer came in to report slight penetrations of our lines in the front of General Middleton's VIII Corps and the right of General Gerow's V Corps in the Ardennes region. . . . - Dwight Eisenhower, "Crusade in Europe"

It had started with the dawn: an unexpectedly heavy artillery barrage. How had the retreating Germans managed to mass so many guns? Was this just a local attack, or a feint to distract the attention from a major blow elsewhere?

Soon it became clear that the enemy had massed more than artillery. The Sixth Panzer Army, a mobile reserve that had disappeared from the view of Allied intelligence, reappeared. When the barrage lifted, German armor came pouring out of the woods, headed for the seam between the British and American armies.

Instead of sheltering behind the Siegfried Line, the "retreating" Germans were advancing. Through an only lightly defended 50-mile stretch of the Ardennes.

Allied intelligence had collected reports of a transfer of German troops from the Eastern to the Western front in the fall of 1944, and there was ample evidence that they were being reassembled in the Ardennes, but word never filtered up to headquarters. No one had connected the dots. (Sound familiar?)

The weather wasn't on our side, either. The coldest, snowiest winter in European memory made Allied air superiority irrelevant. The panzers sped on, opening a growing wedge. Allied headquarters was compelled to sacrifice unity of command as the German advance split the British and American armies; Ike had to designate separate commanders for each sector of a crumbling front.

In the heat of battle, confusion reigned. Disguised as American MPs, English-speaking, American-accented Germans were sending relief convoys down the wrong roads, or into murderous ambushes. Just liberated French cities were exposed again, and Paris was jittery. The British press demanded that Eisenhower turn command of the land forces over to Montgomery - or anyone else competent.

Von Runstedt and his staff had taken everything into account except the sheer cussedness of the American resistance. The 7th Armored held onto the crossroads at St. Vith longer than anyone would have imagined possible. And at Bastogne, the key to the battle, the 101st Airborne refused to yield at all, and entered legend.

According to the German battle plan, Bastogne was to be overrun on the second day of the operation; it never was. General Anthony McAuliffe's one-word response to the German commander's surrender terms would become a classic summation of American defiance: "Nuts!"

Forced to split up and go around isolated pockets of American resistance, the German advance slowed. Unlike 1940, there was no breakout. Methodically, the Allied command drew up new defensive lines, then held. And to the South, Patton was turning the whole Third Army on a dime and hurtling to the rescue . . . .

Before it was over, the Battle of the Bulge would involve three German armies, the equivalent of 29 divisions; three American armies, or 31 divisions; and three British divisions augmented by Belgian, Canadian and French troops.

More than a million men would be drawn into the battle. The Germans would lose an estimated 100,000 irreplaceable troops, counting their killed, wounded and captured; the Americans would suffer some 80,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed - that's a rate of 500 a day - and 23,554 captured.

But the Allied forces held. And the war went on, moving across the Rhine and then into the heartland of the enemy. Against all bitter expectations, the conflict in the European theater would be over in four months.

There's a different kind of war on now, but war itself remains the same brutal experience. And it invokes the same admixture of fear and desperation, bloody miscalculation and incredible heroism, over-confidence and unchanging defeatism.

Much was gained by that decisive victory in the Ardennes 60 years ago, but victory obscures as much as it reveals. How the Battle of the Bulge turned out may seem inevitable now that history has unfolded but, as Wellington was supposed to have said of Waterloo, "it was a damned close-run thing."

The passage of time erodes memory, and we tend to forget the pain, the sacrifices, the mercurial swings of public opinion, the alternating hopes and fears, the daily uncertainty of war . . . and the necessity of endurance.
 

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Baptism by fire
Today marks 60th anniversary of WWII battle

By Brian Passey
[email protected]hespectrum.com
Photo
Jerel Harrris / Daily News

"We were green troops being submitted to everything the German troops had to offer," said J. Curt Hodges, an 80-year-old Diamond Valley resident who remembers being sent into the Battle of the Bulge with the 106th Infantry, 424 Batallion, Company M.



DIAMOND VALLEY -- Sixty years ago today, John Curt Hodges was a 20-year-old soldier experiencing war for the first time.

His 106th Infantry Division was fresh off a boat from the United States when it was attacked by a seasoned German army. It happened near a town called St. Vith in eastern Belgium. It was an offensive that later became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Hodges, now 80, does not look old enough to have fought in World War II. Though he uses a wheelchair, he is still able to walk with a cane and his graying beard has plenty of dark whiskers.

The veteran lives in a brick house on a quiet hill overlooking Diamond Valley. He and his late wife built the area's second house in 1983. During Hodges' career in real estate, he helped fill the valley with more than 200 homes, something he now questions when he looks out across the once-empty landscape.

Questioning decisions was part of being in the 424th Regiment following the Battle of the Bulge. Hodges was a transport corporal in the 424th's heavy weapons company, part of the larger 106th Infantry Division. The 106th was attacked by German troops on Dec. 16, 1944, eventually wiping out the 422nd and the 423rd regiments. The 424th retreated.

According to historical accounts, many in the 424th questioned whether they did the right thing by pulling back and losing the ground they were trying to hold. But the same accounts praise the young troops for holding out as long as they did, fending off a massive German offensive against the untried division. The average age of the 106th was 22.

Among Hodges' war memorabilia is a pamphlet about the 106th, issued by the Army's Information and Education Services following the war. It describes the pre-battle atmosphere of the wooded, snow-covered ridge northeast of Luxembourg where the battle was fought.

The booklet read, "This was a quiet sector along the Belgium-Germany frontier. For 10 weeks there had been only light patrol activity and the sector was assigned to the 106th so it could gain experience. The baptism by fire that was to come was the first action for the 106th. For many of its men it would be the last."

At 5:40 a.m., 60 years ago today, the German forces attacked Hodges' division head on, surrounding the three regiments and destroying two of them. The Nazis kept moving up fresh troops to replace their wounded and dead, but for the 106th at St. Vith, there were no replacements.

"I'm a miracle man ... the fact that I'm sitting here," Hodges said.

The soldiers spent three days moving from foxhole to tree to bush, he said.

Though the 424th had to pull back, when reinforcements arrived they were given the honor of going back to retake the ground and, in effect, prevent a full German victory. The counter attack began on Christmas Eve.

"Cooks, office help, everyone picked up a rifle and we retook the ground we lost," Hodges said. "That broke the back of the German offensive."

As the battle raged, Hodges' division spent Christmas dodging bullets. Despite the conditions, the Army delivered a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings to increase morale.

"I don't know how they did it," Hodges said, his voice trembling and his eyes filling with tears. "I just don't know."

In order to get the food, each soldier had to sneak around, hiding behind trees to get to the building where the food was. Then they had to dash back out and hide behind another tree to eat.

"Incidentally, there weren't many guys who went back for seconds," Hodges said.

Christmas dinner was not the only reward they got that day. They also took the town of Manhay and held it. A month later they retook St. Vith.

During the battle, Hodges said the soldiers never went anywhere without their guns, gas masks and other equipment. He said they had to be ready for something to happen at any second.

As he spoke of his duties working in the mortar company, Hodges' eyes seemed much younger than his 80 years. They lit up as he described his work in detail, almost jumping out of his wheelchair at times.

The 106th's story is only part of the largest battle in Western Europe during World War II. When it was all over, 8,600 U.S. soldiers were dead and Germany had lost 17,000.

"You talk about war and that's a word," Hodges said. "You live it and it's something else now. It's entirely different."
 

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Is that one of your relations Sang? Thanks for sharing the pic.
 

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Thanks for the info. :thankyou:
 

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DADDY WARBUCKS
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That is my uncle and aunt. Both are gone now. He was 82nd airborne. D-Day to Bastonge. He was brought home after that as a highly decorated soldier and put on special honor burial detail. I think that is about when this picture was taken. Somehwhere in early 1945.

His wife was my Dad's older sister. Yep, she was a WAC. My Dad was serving in the Pacific at the time.
 

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One of my uncles was killed in the battle of the bulge in December 1944.
 
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