For all practical purposes, the outcome of World War II was decided on D-Day, June 6, 1944. But there was still a lot of fighting that would take place before the war was officially over. 75 years ago the United States was embroiled in one such battle – The Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last gasp of the war. It began on December 16, 1944 and did not end until January 25, 1945 – just a little more than three months before Germany would unconditionally surrender on May 6, 1945, V-Day. The Battle of the Bulge had a lot to do with expediting this surrender but it did not come without great cost.
The “Bulge” was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II. Some 19,000+ Americans were killed in this battle alone making it the third deadliest campaign in American history. Winston Churchill said this battle was “undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war, and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory.” The Battle of the Bulge Monument at Valley Forge Military Academy memorialized this victory as a “Triumph of Courage.”
There are two things that I want to tell you about The Bulge:
1) My uncle, Alan Reyner, my dad’s brother, your great great uncle, fought in this battle. My cousin, Uncle Alan’s son, wrote a piece about his dad’s experiences. Here are a few excerpts…
My father was a combat soldier. He was assigned to the 422nd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division. He was a machine gunner; his rank, private first class. That’s about as basic as it gets. Most of the enlisted men of the 106th were college-age boys who had never seen combat…. In the fall of 1944, when he was nineteen, my father, was shipped to the front to relieve, in his words, the “Ninth infantry regiment of the crack Second Division.” At the time of the commencement of the Battle of the Bulge at dawn on December 16th, 1944, his regiment was the deepest outfit in the Siegfried Line. When the fighting began he was just outside the Belgium village of St. Vith, approximately 30 miles northeast of Bastogne. He was right smack on the front lines. The 422nd and 423rd regiments, as well as the rest of the 106th, were vastly out-manned and out-gunned from the get-go. Combat for my dad began on the way to the front on December 9th, 1944, with the most intense fighting experienced by his unit at the Bulge lasting only four days; but, by all accounts, his last day of combat, December 19th, was really hell. In my father’s words: “Things were getting more and more confused by then. Our own mortars were shelling us, inflicting heavy casualties. It was then that I really saw what a bullet could do. Men were lying all around me, wounded and dying, others were shocked out of their speech capacity, others were simply walking around hollow-eyed. None of us could believe that this was happening to us.”
He was soon to be captured by the Nazis and put in a POW concentration camp. Now remember that my uncle was Jewish. Because of his religion he was transferred from the POW camp to a slave labor camp – Berga am Elster, a sub-camp of Buchenwald.
More than 20 percent of the American POWs at Berga died within a three-month period. It was simple: the prisoners walked an hour to and from the work site, where the guards forced them to labor ten hours a day digging tunnels for an underground factory, feeding them only a liter of watery soup and a piece of bread a day.
My uncle quickly understood that if he was going to survive that he would have to escape.
My father escaped from camp by jumping in the river at night during a black-out and floating downstream, but after six days was recaptured. His second escape—this time successful—was just seven days from liberation. I am convinced the first escape, while risky, saved his life. While trying to get back to Allied lines, he stole chickens, rabbits, eggs, milk, and vegetables from farmers. He wrote, “We really fared well.” At the time of his second escape and upon his liberation he weighed less than 95 pounds.
I hope that you will love history as you grow up. When you study about WWII and in particular The Battle of the Bulge you can be proud that a relative of yours helped to secure victory for the Allied forces.
2) The other thing I want to tell you about the Bulge is this: In many ways, as believers in Jesus, we are involved in a similar battle. D-Day for us was when Jesus willingly gave up His life on the cross to secure salvation for all who would believe. His death and subsequent resurrection provided forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and hope in this crazy, broken world. But even though ultimate victory is assured because of the cross the enemy has yet to surrender. So there are still battles to be fought. There are still casualties as a result of the war. There are still prisoners of war that need to be freed.
But even so, do not be dismayed. Do not give up when the fighting is fierce. Fight the good fight of faith. Hold on to the hope that is ours. V-Day is coming. The enemy will be defeated once and for all and everything will be made right. Stand firm and you will one day be a part of a glorious celebration that will far out do May 6, 1945.
Never forget that you are very loved!