Veterans return to Bastogne
April 12, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Bastogne's history had always been turbulent.
Founded by the Gauls during the time of the Roman Empire, it was granted formal charter in 1332 and absorbed into the Duchy of Burgundy more than a century later. It would go on to become part of the Spanish Crown, repelling attacks from the Dutch and was briefly occupied by France during the Nine Years War. It was part of Belgium when the country was granted its independence in 1839, and was ravaged by Germany during World War I.
All of that was ancient history for Gerald White when he arrived in Bastogne at the end of 1944. White, then a teenager from New York, had joined the Army after high school and quickly found himself involved in a clash between American and German forces as part of the Siege of Bastogne.
The German army was trying to take control of the main roads that converged at the Ardennes Mountain. The fight for the town lasted a full week, ending when American forces were relieved by elements of Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army. The fight was part of the much larger Battle of the Bulge.
"When I hit Belgium, I was a replacement for those who were killed," said White, who was a member of the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division. "We were there for 15 or 16 days before we started moving."
After crossing the Rhine River, White said there were "only four or five major battles" left.
"And then we went across the Elbe River, where we met the Russians," he said. "And they were a cocky bunch of boys. Then we swept down into Czechoslovakia, and that's where the war ended for us."
Last week, White found himself at another Bastogne, a live fire range on Fort Jackson named in honor of the battle. The sound of gunfire filled the air as he and visitors with the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge group were given an exhibition on modern infantry weaponry by cadre of Company B, 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment.
"When I heard they were doing this event, I was all for it," said White, who today lives in Columbia. He spent two years in the Army and maintained a professional interest in weapons following his departure from the military after the war.
"I was an ammunition inspector for about 37 years," he said. "My last eight years was in missiles."
The sound of automatic weapons drowned out much of the presentation, but there were no complaints from the guests, a group that included two World War II veterans and their families. The weapons on display were a far cry from the single-shot rifles issued to the infantry during World War II. The weapons they were allowed to hold during the presentation were not only automatic, but equipped with grenade launchers.
"It was a great opportunity to continue to build Fort Jackson's relationship with the community by reminding our local veterans that we appreciate their sacrifices and that they will always be a part of our Army's future," said Lt. Col. Robert Fouche, commander of the 4-10th.
Sgt. 1st Class Jody Jennings said the event has become a tradition in the 4-10th.
"It's a yearly event that our unit puts on, to have the Battle of the Bulge veterans come out and see what (Soldiers in Basic Combat Training) do in a day of firing out at Bastogne Range," Jennings said. "We pride ourselves on knowing the weapons systems we have."
He said the weapons demonstrations are designed to show how the weapons work, and did not dwell on the kinds of technical aspects taught to new Soldiers.
"It was outstanding. Jennings did a super job of explaining everything to us," White said.