Battle of the Bulge, December 1944


Depending on the perspectives people have, there are many opinions regarding the so-called turning point of World War II. Some say the war in the Pacific was turned around at Midway in the spring of 1942 when the core of the Japanese navy (its carriers) was defeated, never mind that that horrifically bloody conflict lasted through August of 1945, when the A-bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Others will point to D-Day, 06 June 1944, when the bloody, costly invasion by the Allies of the European continent at Normandy took place. Still others will claim that the matter was decided when allied fighters could escort bombers all the way to the targets mainly in Germany and back to their bases in England. Before that, it was considered practically a miracle if a bomber crew lived through 25 missions. Allied fighter pilots made short work of the German-Luftwaffe threat, the result being the absolute devastation of German efforts to manufacture war-making materiel as German cities were laid waste.

It's doubtful that any one thing can be determined to be the turning point, but a significant effort started on 16 December 1944 that eventuated in heroism defined to the nth degree. Remarked this month on its 68th anniversary, it was called the Battle of the Bulge and centered in large part around a city in Belgium called Bastogne. Allied troops and commanders, mostly American, were taken entirely by surprise in the Ardennes area on the German-Belgian border when the Germans mounted a last-ditch offensive, code-named Greif, with 38 divisions during what some termed the "coldest winter in memory." The ensuing battle was by far the worst in terms of lives and materiel lost during the European campaign. If the weather had not made flying impossible for days, the affair would not have caused the terrible problem it did, since by December of 1944 the German Luftwaffe (air force) had practically ceased to be, giving the Allies complete control of the skies.

It was during this campaign that American General McAuliffe, when offered a chance by the Germans to surrender his badly outnumbered army at Bastogne, simply replied, "Nuts." Until that German offensive began, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before the Allies reached Berlin. Indeed, there had been talk of Americans going home by Christmas. All that changed overnight when the surprisingly well-equipped German hordes descended upon the Ardennes. The tide was turned eventually, not least because of a break in the flying weather and the advance of General Patton's Third Army, and the German forces were driven all the way back to where they started by late January 1945, but the toll in lives and other resources was horrendous. Of the 81,000 American casualties, 19,000 were killed-in-action and another 23,554 captured. The most horrible atrocity in the European theater also happened during the battle when 86 American prisoners were massacred by German soldiers at Malmedy. This was reminiscent of the infamous Bataan Death March of 1942 in the Philippines, when Japanese soldiers brutalized and killed American prisoners in the early stages of the war.

Was the Battle of the Bulge a turning point? Of course it was, just as the other incidents mentioned above were turning points. The Germans meant to drive all the way through Belgium and Holland to the North Sea, thus splitting Allied forces and gaining access to ports. Their attack was a total surprise, and they were aided by weather so bad that it constituted, on its own, an enemy almost as deadly as the gunfire, with deep snows and frigid temperatures a constant threat simply to survival, much less success against the enemy. It is to the eternal credit of the men who fought there that they would not be denied victory against the weather and the enemy. Most of the American GIs who fought there are dead now. Their average age at the time was said to be twenty-two. Thousands were just teenagers. The nation owes them gratitude so profound as actually to be impossible to comprehend or adequately express, to say nothing of the fact that free nations the world over were delivered by the Americans in the Ardennes in December-January 1944-45. In their honor:

Bastogne
Isaiah 1:18

The scarlet and the snow…the crimson and the wool
Isaiah seemed to know - but not this fiendish ghoul -
This battlefielded ghoul that graced a frigid hell
Saw each a bloody fool, whose life it would expel;
But, not unlike God's seer, it stared down years of time
When it would leech - as here - young blood while in its prime;
The scarlet, deadly sin…not bleached in falling snow…
And wool, with life within, dripped crimson - friend and foe.

The scarlet and the snow…the crimson and the wool
Isaiah had to know - but not a tyrant fool
Who reasoned not with God…but came, instead, to kill,
Who made his minions plod toward graves that thousands fill,
Who was incarnate sin…the scarlet, crimsoned wool…
His god - himself within - though simply Satan's tool;
But, in that icy hell…where tens of thousands fell,
No tyrant fool would dwell - the proud knew all too well.

The scarlet and the snow…the crimson and the wool
Isaiah could but know God reasons with no fool;
So, scarlet ruled the day…and crimson ruled the night,
As sin engaged full sway…the snow and wool to blight;
Men's scarlet-crimson gushed, as - brave - they fought to death,
Their screams of pain not hushed…till final, rasping breath;
But, right would win the day sin's scarlet-crimson spawned,
When wrong was made to pay…and hope, again, had dawned.

The scarlet and the snow…the crimson and the wool
Isaiah - did he know? - about each frozen pool
Of red that stained the earth, when warmed and gone to ground,
Of blood that gave rebirth…pure wool in earthly mound,
Where buglers sound the dirge for freedom-fighter's loss,
Where mourners yet emerge…from fields of star and cross.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The soldiers - friend and foe - from summer years have gone…
And where, then, did they go? - they went to cold Bastogne.