Looking back now, all I can remember is the cold, and it was so cold. It was the kind of cold that numbs the fingers instantly and keeps the brain screaming for warmth.
Other things come to mind, the dark of the night. A night made eerie by the swirling clouds of overcast that kept our planes grounded for days. The quiet and stillness of the landscape, was only broken by the intermittent crunch of boots in snow. The light snowfall that never seemed to abate also gave a Christmas-like feel to the entire landscape that surrounded us.
From the advanced observation point, we could see the enemy doing much as we were, just trying to stay warm. Sure, we would send a patrol across every now and then to grab some prisoners, but for the most part, this was a quiet sector that the war had pretty much forgotten about. In some respects the pine trees and birch trees reminded me of Upstate New York in the Adirondacks. Slow rolling hills that eventually swelled to higher peaks, with gently sloping valleys in between.
After tough battles in the Hurtgen Forest around the cities of Aachen, Monshau, and Duren we were sent here to rest, refit, and get ready for the next phase of battle to breach the Siegfried Line. This was a place in the Schnee Eifel region of the Ardennes Forest. Divisional HQ was sending some preliminary information that seemed to indicate the Germans were done and although we would not be home for Christmas, there would not be too much of an interval before the war in the European Theater of Operations was over with a resounding victory. One other thing though, divisional HQ was also sending messages to stay on a heightened alert. Apparently the German radio communications had dwindled to a very slight minimum, and though the German Army was a defeated foe, there was no explanation as to why the level of military chatter on the radio would diminish to a light trickle.
Over the previous few days we thought we could hear the sounds of motors and tank tracks late at night, but since we were aware that recent battles had decimated the vaunted Panzer formations from what they were prior to D-Day, we assumed that these noises were engineers building redoubts for their troops to bivouac for the winter months. More important thoughts filled our minds, like whether the Marines fighting in the Pacific tropical heat ever thought about the cold here in the ETO to keep cool. We here sometimes thought about the heat of the fighting in New Guinea, the Philippines, The Marshalls and the Marianas. These thoughts kept the cold at bay for a few minutes.
This was our world on December 15, 1944.
In the early morning hours of December 16, 1944, the idyllic quiet was broken by the thunderous bombardment of German artillery. The Battle of the Bulge, the largest land-based military engagement in the history of the United States Army, had begun.
In remembrance of this event that began seventy years ago this coming Tuesday, December 16, 2014.