Tomorrow (Dec. 16) marks the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s last ditch campaign to save Nazi Germany. A surprise attack on Allied forces in a sprawling forest over Western Europe would become known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” Americans are remembering the largest land battle of World War Two.
Americans took the brunt of the German offensive, as the enemy stormed through Allied forces, forming a bulge in the front line. The winter of 1944 was one of the harshest in European history.
(Newsreel) “From under a blanket of snow artillerymen dig out their ammunition for this war waits on no weather. Before long the big guns are ready to go into action and pound the Hun.”
“Snow between your knees and bottom of your fanny. The coldest temperatures on record.”
Bob Holliday, whose father fought in the battle, is Chairman of the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum.
“Think about the fact that we had 80-some thousand casualties of the Americans in that battle, half of those were from enemy action, the other half were due to amputations of fingers and toes due to frostbite.”
Holliday was legal counsel for the Iowa Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, which has now disbanded because so few members remain. An Army veteran, now 92 and living in Dubuque, started the organization.
“Harold Lindstrom, 75th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 4th platoon.”
Two things Lindstrom remembers most are the fighting and the cold.
“I think the cold was the worst, that’s 24 hours a day, we slept in fox holes down to 10-below, or more.”
Lindstrom kept an extra pair of socks warm, next to his stomach, but the German bombardment ruined his hearing for life.
(Newsreel) “The German forces were superior, the American forces were isolated into small groups and they ruthlessly slaughtered.”
White snow, stained with American blood, is a stark image in the archives of military history. Some of it spilled from a young lieutenant who grew up in Waterloo. John Phillips has not slept indoors for 19 days and was ordered to take a squad and eliminate two German machine guns outside a village in Belgium. Bob Holliday was his friend.
“Five of them were killed immediately. John went down and he had drawn fived rounds from that German machine gun. Three hit him in the belly, the fourth blew off his left bicep and the fifth actually landed, lodged in a very small copy of the New Testament that he kept in his left shirt pocket. Saved his life, the bible exists today with the bullet hole in it, and the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum has the Bible with the actual shirt John Phillips was wearing that day clearly showing the bullet holes in it.”
Phillips was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge, but survived World War Two. He attended the University of Iowa, had a career in business and raised a family, until his death in Des Moines last year, at the age of 90.
(Holliday) “What that battle basically did was decimate the German Army. The Americans clearly won this battle. That was Hitler’s last gamble to try to win this war, which he lost that gamble.”
(Newsreel) “The conduct of the war had changed; the allies had won the battle of the bulge.”
The story of John Phillips, his Bible and bullet-riddled shirt, will be featured in a special Battle of the Bulge recognition, 70 years later, at the Camp Dodge Gold Star Military Museum, next Saturday (Dec. 20) at 10 a.m. In Des Moines, I’m Rick Fredericksen, Iowa Public Radio News.
(Andrews Sisters sing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” 1941)