World War II vets lay wreath
September 28, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. - About 90 veterans from The Battle of the Bulge descended on Columbus and Fort Benning last week for their annual reunion.
The group gathered at the Main Post Cemetery on Wednesday for a wreath-laying ceremony to honor and remember those killed, captured or wounded during the largest and bloodiest campaign fought by the Americans in World War II. The battle unfolded through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium, as well as France and Luxembourg on the western front.
Waged Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, it stood as the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies, a last-ditch attempt by Adolf Hitler to split them in half in their drive toward Germany and destroy their ability to resupply themselves.
"We were annihilated in The Battle of the Bulge," said Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Inc. National President J. David Bailey, then a corporal with the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. "We got completely caught by surprise. There was no air support, and our supply lines were cut off.
"My unit withstood the enemy for three days. Most of the men were taken prisoner, wounded or killed. I'm one of the lucky ones who made it out."
An estimated 600,000 U.S. troops were involved in the battle, according to historical accounts. The Americans suffered nearly 81,000 casualties, while 100,000 Germans were killed, wounded or captured.
During World War II, retired Army Col. Doug Dillard was a sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division's 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, which fought near Rochlinval, Belgium, in The Battle of the Bulge.
"My unit was almost totally destroyed. We had 98 Soldiers left after the last day," he said. "This ceremony is very meaningful for us. We're trying to perpetuate the history and honor of our veterans who were killed."
Dillard traveled from Bowie, Md., for the four-day reunion, which began Sept. 20. It marked the organization's 30th official gathering, and he was expected to be elected its new executive vice president.
Wednesday's ceremony featured a seven-man firing party and 21-gun salute. A bugler played Taps as Bailey and Dillard laid the wreath alongside two Fort Benning drill sergeants.
Bailey, who traveled from the D.C. area to attend, said most of the veterans are now in their 80s and 90s. Every year on Dec. 16, they also get together for three days in Washington.
"The Battle of the Bulge is considered the greatest land battle in history," Bailey said.
"It also had the largest number of casualties for a single battle. It's important for us not to forget their sacrifice."