A Christmas long ago: Remembering the heroes of the Battle of the Bulge
It was December 1944, 75 years ago, and American forces were guarding the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. Very little fighting had been going on in what was believed to be the closing days and months of World War II in Europe. The lull came to a wrenching halt on Dec. 16, however, when the German Army launched a surprise counterattack, now known as the Battle of the Bulge, with about 200,000 troops and 1,000 tanks.
The goal was to break through the American lines and cut the Allied Forces in half, opening the way to control the supply port of Antwerp, Belgium. As portrayed in the popular HBO series Band of Brothers, the German forces succeeded in surrounding Allied Forces located at Bastogne. The siege began on Dec. 20 and ended Dec. 27. At one point, the Germans sent a request to General Anthony McAuliffe of the American forces, asking him to surrender, noting that their situation was hopeless.
McAuliffe replied: “To the German Commander, NUTS! — The American Commander.”
“And with that, the Battle carried on. For those entrenched in this war, there would be no Christmas truce like there had been during WWI,” wrote Kaitlyn Crain Enriquez, an archives specialist for the National Archives in the archives The Unwritten Record (unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov).
Some of the soldiers were able to attend Christmas services held by Army chaplains, while others were invited to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with families in Belgium. For the frontline soldiers, there was no break from the misery of the frigid temperatures and tension of war.
Those who survived and the veterans of the other battles of World War II would return home in the next year or two to begin making new lives for themselves. With their return, the rural electrification movement, which had begun with President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of an executive order creating the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935 and slowed during the war, was poised to once again grow. The veterans of World War II were key in forming and building the electric co-ops that serve our state and nation today.
This Christmas, as we mark the 75th anniversary of this most important battle, let’s pause to remember those brave servicemen who gave their lives for our freedom and to honor those veterans who fought and then came home to make life better for all of us. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Photos above: A Belgium family welcomes an American soldier into their home for Christmas. (left) American soldiers pause during the Battle of the Bulge for a Christmas service. (right)