ROANOKE, Va. -- The U.S. Army suffered more than 100,000 casualties during World War II's Battle of the Bulge, a last-ditch attempt by the German army to split the Allied forces in northwest Europe in December 1944.
Claude Hodges, a resident at the Virginia Veterans Care Center here, was serving with the 99th Infantry Division in the Ardennes Forest when the battle broke out; although captured and interned in a German prisoner-of-war camp, Hodges lived to tell his story to future generations.
Eager to hear that story was Maj. Gen. Troy D. Kok, commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve's 99th Regional Support Command, who visited Hodges and other veterans at the center April 28.
"Our history is so very important to remember," said Kok during a previous visit with veterans. "It's all about service, and it doesn't matter when we did that service -- it's a matter of being willing to do the service."
Hodges service began when he enlisted in the Army in December 1942. Two years later, he found himself serving as a machine gunner in the Ardennes Forest.
"We were dug in on a bank," recalled Hodges in book, "Battle Baby at the Bulge: The POW Experience of Claude Hodges," by Col. Greg Eanes. "We had two-man foxholes covered in pine. We were only about 300 feet apart and could see the Germans coming in and out of their bunkers."
On Dec. 15, 1944 -- the day before the German army launched the Ardennes Offensive -- Hodges was sent to Honsfeld, Belgium, for a brief respite from the front lines.
His rest was short-lived as the German Army entered Honsfeld on Dec. 17, 1944, and Hodges and his fellow U.S. Soldiers were taken prisoner by the 1st SS Panzer Division.
Hodges spent the next three-and-a-half months in Stalag 13, a prisoner-of-war camp in Hammelburg, Germany, before being liberated by U.S. forces in early April 1945.
"I have to give God all the credit for our survival," Hodges said.
Although the 99th RSC's mission to provide facilities, logistics and administrative support to 44,000 Army Reserve Soldiers in the 13-state northeast region of the United States is vastly different than that of the 99th ID, Kok and his Soldiers continue a legacy of service that Hodges and his comrades started 75 years ago.
"It's just such an honor to be able to shake the hands of these men and women," said Kok. "I watch the expressions on their faces as they remember the importance of their service and what they did."