Battle of Bulge 65th anniversary remembered at tree-lighting

By J.D. Leipold

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 4, 2009) Aca,!" The ArmyAca,!a,,cs chief of staff stepped back in history Thursday evening to Christmas Eve in Belgium 65 years ago by reading one of the most inspirational letters written by a commander to his troops.

Aca,!A"WhatAca,!a,,cs merry about all this, you ask' WeAca,!a,,cre fighting Aca,!" itAca,!a,,cs cold, we arenAca,!a,,ct home,Aca,!A? Gen. George W. Casey read to onlookers at the annual Union Station Christmas tree-lighting and tribute to the 99th Infantry Battalion, a Norwegian-American World War II unit which rescued 52 American Soldiers in Malmedy.

Aca,!A"All true but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades, the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest'Aca,!A? Casey continued reading of the letter written by Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe.

McAuliffe was acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division between Dec. 16, 1944 and Jan. 25, 1945, when he and more than 800,000 Allied troops found themselves in a raging battle in Bastogne and the surrounding area. The nearly six-week battle pitted slow-moving, massive German Tiger tanks against nearly twice as small, nimble American Shermans with significantly less firepower.

The outcome of the Battle of the Bulge -- the German ArmyAca,!a,,cs last offensive drive to split the Allies in the Ardennes -- ultimately determined who would be left standing at the end of World War II in Europe.

Casey continued reading McAuliffeAca,!a,,cs Christmas Eve 1944 letter to the troops, many of whom that winter were still wearing clothing from the June 6, 1944, D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy, France.

Special guest at the at the lighting of the 32-foot fir, 87-year-old Jarvis Taylor, a heavy weapons 30-caliber machine gunner with the 99th, recalled in a phone interview how it was a real treat to occasionally get shuttled behind the battle line via jeep for a shower:

Aca,!A"I know it was a great relief to a lot of us when there was a quiet spell where weAca,!a,,cd get a chance to have showers, and usually they would give you a change of underwear and maybe socks, but you pretty much had to make do with the uniform you had,Aca,!A? he said. Taylor also remembered Christmas dinner Aca,!" pancakes Aca,!" that was all he ate that day.

Casey continued with the Christmas letter in which McAuliffe talked about how the Allies had stopped the German advance, though he had conceded that the Germans had surrounded the Allies while Aca,!A"their radios blared our doom. Their commander demanded our surrender in the following impudent arroganceAca,!A|Aca,!A? Casey read.

The German commanderAca,!a,,cs Dec. 22 letter to McAuliffe described how Aca,!A"the fortune of war was changing,Aca,!A? how the American forces were encircled and that there was only one way in which McAuliffe could save his troops from Aca,!A"total annihilationAca,!A?Aca,!A| through Aca,!A"honorable surrender.Aca,!A? McAuliffe was given two hours to respond.

McAuliffeAca,!a,,cs four-letter reply to the German commander: Aca,!A"NUTS!Aca,!A?

Norwegian ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen presented the Christmas tree as a gift for the 13th year to the people of the district. The tree bears hundreds of Norwegian and American flags and is accompanied by a ribbon honoring the 99th Inf. Bn.

Like the troops far from home during Christmas 1944, Casey reminded the crowd that thousands of American servicemembers are serving worldwide this holiday season.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16