The Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge

By Roger Heid

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Nuts! Here is another war story I happened to come across.

In 1981, shortly before Thanksgiving, I was discharged from the US Army. By the beginning of December, my wife and I had settled down in our new home. Now all things military were behind me, and we were ready to resume a civilian life style, along with new jobs, new friends and so on. So I thought.

Just a few blocks from where we lived, there was a VFW Post with a restaurant, famed for the Friday Night Fish Fry, something very common in Wisconsin. The fish fry lured us to that restaurant; otherwise I would not have had any reason to go there since, not having served in a war zone, I would not qualify for membership anyway.

Seated at a table next to ours was a group of old men, maybe four or five, each old enough to be my father. From their conversation I gathered that all of them had served in the ETO (European Theater of Operation) between D-Day and VE-Day or so. I felt deep respect for them.

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On our way home, my wife was wondering why I did not join that conversation. Knowing me, she outright expected me to do so. I told her that, somewhere along the line, I needed to disconnect from certain things and that now was the time.

On Saturday night, two weeks later, we decided to stop at a Supper Club which I had patronized before I went with Uncle Sam. We asked the young couple living next door to join us. They declined on grounds that this place was for old folks. That did not stop us from going, by ourselves.

This place featured a huge horseshoe type bar. It was after 10 pm, and most of the old folks must have gone home as it was past their bed time. There were lots of stools available. On the far end of the bar, the curved part, was a small group of old men, loudly discussing some situation when the krauts gave up and surrendered. I recognized these men, right away.

I was tempted to turn around and leave, but my wife grabbed my arm and pulled me toward these old men.

“Come on, Roger, let’s join them. I know you’re itching to talk to them.”

So we occupied a couple of bar stools right next to them. The old men briefly looked at us, only to continue their rather vivid discussion, the subject of which now focused on Bastogne.

At one point, they all took a sip from their glasses, giving me the chance to add my five cents worth to the discussion.

“Did you ever get to meet General McAuliffe?’’ I asked.

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Brigadier General Anthony Clement “Nuts” McAuliffe

Anthony_C._McAuliffe,_left,_and_then-Col._Harry_W.O._Kinnard_II_at_Bastogne

Left: BG McAuliffe  Right: Lieutenant Colonel Kinnard

They all stared at me, puzzlement reflecting from their wrinkled faces. One of them finally broke the ice.

“Nuts! I didn’t. But I saw Patton when he came through. Say, are you some kind of historian?”

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LTG  George S. Patton III

“No, I ain’t.  You see, just a few weeks ago, I finished a 7 1/2 year tour in Germany. There, for a few months, I also served under Patton, your Patton’s son.”

“I see. Was he anything like his old man?”

“I think so, but I can’t know for sure. I never met his old man. He told me he served in Korea and did three tours in Nam.”

“Well, I never met our Patton’s kid. Doesn’t matter anymore.”

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Maj Gen  George Smith Patton IV (1977)

Now the conversation stopped. One guy paid up and left. On his way out he mumbled something about him not belonging here. He had his butt shot near Salerno.

“So, you actually were in Bastogne?” I resumed the discussion.

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“Yup, that was in December of 44. It was a cold mother. I was with an engineer unit. One of our jobs was to blow up railroads tracks, if possible with a kraut train on it. Just a little southwest from Bastogne was a small town called Libramont. That’s where the rails came through. We were told that this line would connect the German city of Aachen with Paris. We were to stop the krauts from hauling supplies from the south. Another engineer group would do the same further north to keep them from hauling stuff from Germany.”

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I ordered a fresh round for all.

“Well, so were milling around Libramont, trying to figure out where the best place would be to install the fireworks. We even got to do a little hunting to supplement the K-rations.”

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“Then we heard a train acoming. An infantry look-out signaled us it was the real thing, not a passenger train. Just after the engine had passed over the fireworks, I pushed the plunger. Kaboom! There she went. All kinds of crap was flying through the air. Something hit me on the noggin, and I must have passed out, for a moment. Then I noticed some stupid with a machine gun making Swiss Cheese out of our deuce n’half. By gosh, that was the last thing he ever did. But now we were stuck or we had to walk back to Bastogne. Not a good idea. It was too frickin’ cold to do that. Before we decided what to do, we made sure that this kraut engine would never do another mile. Another kaboom turned it into a pile of scrap iron. I don’t know how they did it, but the Frenchies hauled us back to Bastogne, in a heated bus, just in time for the krauts to surround us. Darn it! What a Christmas that turned out to be, I swear. A lot of us never even got to celebrate. But we all got a kick out of McAuliffe delivering ‘Nuts’ to the Germans.”

He abruptly got up, slapped some money on the counter, and left. The others followed suit; one of them weeping.

On the way home, my wife had one little thing to say:

“Maybe we should not have sat with them. You’re right. Some things should just be left behind. I can see this now.”

But then again. Some things should not be forgotten, I think.

****

A twist of fate had it, that Gen George S. Patton IV, while stationed on Kelley Barracks, met Manfred Rommel, the son of Erwin Rommel, in 1978. At the time, Manfred Rommel was Lord Mayor of the City of Stuttgart. Their fathers had been adversaries on the battle front. Their sons became close friends. I know it, because, during a certain event, I had the chance to spend two hours with them. I was supposed to be the interpreter, but Manfred spoke English.

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Field Marshal  Erwin Rommel (Desert Fox)

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Lord Mayor  Manfred Rommel

 

 

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