planned by old men in the comfort of council rooms,
far from the field of battle.
It was the 16th of September 1944. Adolf Hitler
had summoned a group of his senior officers to
his study in the huge, underground bunker called
the Wolf's Lair, Hitler's secret headquarters,
hidden deep underground in a pine forest in East
Prussia. Those summoned were his closest and most
trusted military advisors.
Among them, there was only one who wore the
red stripes of the German General Staff on his
uniform. He was the head of the Operations Staff
of the High Command of the Wehrmacht, General
Alfred Jodl. The officers were waiting when Hitler
entered. Looking considerably older than his fifty-four
years, he was still recovering from the injuries
he had received in the assassination attempt on
his life two months earlier. His shoulders were
sagging, his face was drawn and drained of color,
and his skin had turned yellow, as if he had jaundice.
He had a ruptured eardrum and at times he had
an uncontrollable twitching of his right arm.
Slowly taking his seat, Hitler instructed Jodl
to sum up the situation on the Western Front.
Jodl first noted that the strength of the opposing
forces heavily favored the Western Allies. Over
the past three months, the Germans had suffered
more than a million casualties - half of them
had been in the West. Jodl noted that there was
one area of particular concern where the Germans
had almost no troops. That area was the region
of Belgium and Luxembourg called the Ardennes.
At the word 'Ardennes', Hitler suddenly said,
"Stop the briefing!" There was a long
pause. Strained silence permeated the room. The
silence was finally broken when Hitler, reminiscent
of his once moving and powerful rhetoric said,
"I have made a momentous decision!"
His voice belied the weakened condition of his
body, his blue eyes sparkled and were alight with
a fervor that no one had seen since the attempt
on his life. He pointed to the map unrolled on
the desk before him and he boldly announced, "I
shall go on the offensive here!" And he slapped
his hand down on the map. "Here, out of the
Ardennes! The objective is Antwerp!" Those
assembled sat in stunned silence.
With those words Hitler set in motion preparations
for a battle that was to assume epic proportions
- the greatest German attack in the West since
the campaign of 1940. While charging Jodl and
his staff with preparing a detailed plan of operations,
Hitler emphasized secrecy. Everyone who knew of
the plan, from Field Marshals to clerks and typists,
had to sign a pledge of secrecy. The penalty for
a loose tongue was death.
But Hitler himself was less than discreet. When
the Japanese Ambassador, Baron Oshima, called
on him at the Wolf's Lair, Hitler was very candid
with him. A day later, Ambassador Oshima reported
the conversation to his government in Tokyo.
Since mid-1941, the United States had been intercepting
and decrypting Japanese diplomatic traffic. Oshima's
report that Hitler was planning a large-scale
offensive operation in the West to start sometime
after the first of November, was on the desks
of intelligence officers in the Pentagon almost
as soon as it reached the Foreign Office in Tokyo.
Gradually, very gradually, the German Commanders
who would direct the battle were told of the plan,
a few at a time. The operation would be launched
along a sixty-mile front from Monschau in the
north to the medieval town of Echternach in the
On the eve of the battle, in the medieval town
of Echternach, a glamorous German-born film star,
Marlene Dietrich, the star of a USO troupe, was
entertaining the American troops. In a deep, sultry
voice she sang "Lili Marlene" to the
raucous applause of hundreds of GIs.
Meanwhile, on the German side of the line, in
assembly areas across the front, German Commanders
read a message from Field Marshal von Rundstedt.
The message began as follows: "Soldiers of
the West Front! Your great hour has arrived! We
attack at dawn!"
In the early morning hours of 16 December, the
tramping sound of hobnailed jack boots broke the
stillness of that cold, silent night as Nazi troopers,
with visions of past glory, strutted upon the
field of battle as they marched to the line of
departure and formed into assault formations.
Hitler was personally directing his grand offensive
from the Adlerhorst, an underground bunker amid
the wooded hills of Taunus. At the Adlerhorst,
the door of the cuckoo clock hanging on the wall
opened and the cuckoo bird came out and announced
that the hour of destiny had arrived.
A split second after five-thirty a.m., an American
soldier in the 28th Infantry Division manning
an observation post high atop of a water tower
in the village of Hosingen, frantically turned
the crank on his field telephone. He reported
to his Company Commander that in the distance,
on the German side, he could see a strange phenomenon
- countless flickering pinpoints of light piercing
the darkness of the early morning fog and mist.
Within a few seconds, both he and his Company
Commander had an explanation. They were the muzzle
flashes of over 2,000 German artillery pieces.
The early morning stillness of the fog-shrouded
forest was suddenly shattered with the thunderclap
of a massive artillery barrage landing on the
Americans. The onslaught had begun! The German
code name for the operation was AUTUMN MIST.
The Americans called it the BATTLE OF THE BULGE.
The Battle of the Bulge lasted from the l6th
of December 1944 until the 28th of January 1945.
More than a million men participated in this battle.
It was to become the greatest battle ever fought
by the United States Army.
The 16th of December was indelibly stamped in
the memory of the Supreme Allied Commander, General
Eisenhower. Early that morning, Eisenhower received
notification of his promotion to the rank of five
stars - General of the Army. Later that morning,
he received a signal from Field Marshal Montgomery.
Montgomery requested permission to return to England
for the Christmas holidays since all was quiet
on the Western Front. Request approved.
Aside from these activities, Eisenhower had
something special he was looking forward to that
day. His old Army buddy, General Omar Bradley,
was coming back from his Army Group Headquarters
to spend the night at Eisenhower's Headquarters.
Eisenhower had prepared a special treat for his
old friend, Brad. Taking advantage of a plane
flying in from Washington, Eisenhower had ordered
a bushel of oysters. Eisenhower loved oysters
and he planned a special dinner for his old friend.
Dinner would begin with oysters on the half shell,
then oyster stew followed by fried oysters as
the main course.
In the fading light of a wintery sunset, the
two Commanders and several of their staff officers
were discussing the major problem at hand, the
diversion of replacements by Washington from the
European Theater to the Far East, when a Colonel
from the Intelligence Section tiptoed into the
discussion with the first wisp of information
about the battle. He announced that the Germans
had secured penetrations at five points along
General Middleton's VIII Corps front.
A review of the operations map revealed that
there were two U. S. Armored Divisions out of
the line. After much discussion, Eisenhower, who
alone of those assembled had the benefit of the
intercepts of Baron Oshima's reports to Tokyo,
believed that it might be more than a spoiling
attack and said, "I think we had better send
Middleton some help. Send the two Armored Divisions."
In the dinner that followed, it almost went
unnoticed that Bradley was allergic to oysters
and had to be served "powdered" eggs
Far from the comfort of the council rooms of
the high-ranking Generals and Field Marshals was
the soldier on the front line. As the last rays
of daylight fell dim and purple on the snow-covered
hills of the Ardennes, there were no oysters on
the half shell for Willie and Joe and their comrades
on the front lines that night! The order of the
day for them was man's first law - self-preservation.
They were dry-mouthed and their bowels churned
with fear as masses of German troopers dressed
in greatcoats emerged through the veil of the
early morning fog and mist, and charged towards
them like men possessed. Low in their foxholes
they prayed to the Lord, and the enemy discovered
the fury of their rifles.
The real story of the Battle of the Bulge is
the story of these soldiers and the intense combat
action of the small units: the squads, the platoons,
the companies, and the soldiers who filled their
ranks. For the most part they were children of
the 20's - citizen soldiers, draftees - young
men hardly more than boys. Raised during the Great
Depression, they did not experience the carefree
days of childhood. They watched as the worry and
stress of the times wrinkled their mothers' faces.
They watched as the dust storms, the stock market
crash and the breadlines humbled their fathers,
impoverished their families and dashed their hopes
and dreams of the future.
Then, as the Depression receded, the world staggered
into war and they received a letter from their
local Draft Board: "Greetings --- Orders
to Report for Induction". Summoned by the
clarion call to arms, they came from across the
land, from the farms and the factories, from their
offices and schools, from the sidewalks of New
York to the shores of San Francisco, they came.
They raised their right hand and pledged their
sacred honor to defend their country. In their
youth their hearts were touched by the flame of
Resourceful, tough, and tempered as hard as
steel in the crucible of the Great Depression,
these men were as tough as the times in which
they were raised. These are the men who made up
the fighting strength of the divisions, carried
out the orders of the Generals and engaged the
Germans in mortal combat:
Battalion Commanders and Company Commanders
- young, lean, tough, battle-wise and toil-worn.
And Second lieutenants - newly minted officers
and gentlemen, some still sporting peach fuzz
on their upper lips - too young to require a razor.
And Grizzly NCO's with faces chiseled and gaunt
by the gnawing stress of battle and the rigors
of a soldier's life in combat.
And seasoned troopers, scroungy and unkempt,
but battle-hardened, competent and disciplined
in the automatic habits of war never learned in
Around their necks hung their dog tags and rosaries,
on their head was their steel pot, and in their
pocket, next to their heart was a picture, the
picture of their girl back home.
Surprised, stunned and not understanding what
was happening to him, the American soldier found
himself in a situation that was as confusing as
trying to read a compass in a magnet factory.
Nevertheless, he held fast until he was overwhelmed
by the German onslaught, or until his commanders
ordered him to withdraw.
The battle was very personal for them. Concerned
with the fearful and consuming task of fighting
and staying alive, these men did not think of
the battle in terms of the 'Big Picture' represented
on the situation maps at higher headquarters.
They knew only what they could see and hear in
the chaos of the battle around them. They knew
and understood the earth for which they fought,
the advantage of holding the high ground and the
protection of the trench or foxhole. They could
distinguish the sounds of the German weffers and
the screaming sound of incoming German 88's.
And they knew the fear of having German artillery
rounds falling like raindrops around them, without
pattern, in the snow. As the soldiers in their
foxholes listened to the sounds of the symphony
of war around them, they were re-assured by the
bass section as the low pitch of friendly cannons
roared and thundered to that 1944 overture.
They knew the satisfying sound of friendly artillery
rounds passing overhead. And they were reassured
by the sudden stabs of flame through the darkness
of night as friendly artillery tubes belched tongues
of fire into the air, spreading a glow of flickering
light above the blackened trees of the snow-covered
They knew the overwhelming loneliness of the
battlefield, the feeling of despair, confusion
and uncertainty that prevails in units in retreat.
And they knew that feeling of utter exhaustion
--- the inability of the soldier's flesh and blood
to continue on, yet they must, or die. They knew
first hand the violent pounding of the heart,
the cold sweat, the trembling of the body and
the stark terror that mortal combat brings. It
was a hell that had to be endured, and they endured
Even Mother Nature was their enemy with bitterly
cold weather. The ground was frozen solid. The
skies were gray. The days were short, with daylight
at 8 and darkness by 4. The nights were long and
frigid and snow, knee-deep, covered the battlefield.
GI's, their bodies numb, were blue-lipped and
chilled to the bone.
At night, the German ground assault was assisted
by artificial moonlight created by giant German
searchlights bouncing their lights off the low-hanging
clouds. The night sky was aflame with shimmering
lights and pulsating patterns, casting an eerie,
ghostly light in the fog and mist over the snow-covered
field of battle.
When the chips were down and the situation was
desperate, the American soldier, molded in the
adversity of the Great Depression, proved to be
unusually adept at taking charge of the situation
and "going into business for himself"
on the battlefield. GIs on that battlefield were
craftier than crows in a cornfield.
These are the soldiers who, when their officers
lay dead and their sergeants turned white, held
the enemy at bay in the days when the heavens
were falling and the battlefield was in flames
with all the fire and noise humanly possible for
over a million warriors to create.
For a brief moment in history, these men held
our nation's destiny in their hands. They did
not fail us. They blew the trumpets that tumbled
the walls. Theirs was the face of victory. Super
heroes---super patriots. Their legacy - victory,
victory in the greatest battle ever fought by
the United States Army.
But the cost of victory was high. There, on
that cold, brutal field of battle, 19,000 young
Americans answered the angel's trumpet call and
had their rendezvous with death. Heroes sacrificed
on the altar of the god of war, whose valor in
many cases died unrecognized with them on the
field of battle.
Tonight we look into the mirror of the past
and we remember them. In the muffled cadence of
memory only, they go marching by, and we salute
them. We hear the echo from those years long ago
as the drum beats the long, slow roll of the soldier's
last tattoo, and the bugler blows the sad and
bitter notes of Taps.
Back home in America, Western Union telegraph
lines hummed with those dreaded messages of sadness:
"The Secretary of War regrets to inform you"
-- telegrams that forever shattered the lives
of the innocent, bringing tears and sadness to
homes across our land. Aged mothers and the youthful
wives must bear the burden of grief throughout
the remainder of their lives.
Over 23,000 American soldiers were captured
during the heat of battle. Prisoners of war who
staggered in tattered columns as they were marched
to German stalags. There they were forced to serve
behind barbed wire in silence and with courage,
each in his own way until the war's end.
Purple Hearts were awarded by the thousands.
The bleeding wounds of 81,000 young Americans
stained the snow and left the 'red badge of courage'
on that blood-soaked field of battle.
Amid the serene hills of the Ardennes to this
very day reposes the dust of American soldiers
listed as "missing and unaccounted for"
from that battle. Those known only to God, who
were left behind, never to return. There, on that
field of battle they perished and disappeared
as though they had never been born. History cannot
record their deeds for it knows not even their
We muster here tonight to honor and pay tribute
to all those brave young warriors who served with
honor and won that battle. We are reminded of
what their journey through life has left behind
The warriors of "the greatest generation",
a generation that is taking their final curtain
calls and soon will leave the stage of life. They
have passed "Old Glory" on to the next
generation unsoiled, their swords untarnished,
their legacy a great nation under God, with liberty,
justice and freedom for all.
Look at these old warriors gathered here tonight.
They are yesterday's heroes. They were soldiers
once and young - the vibrant youth of that time,
men who were there on that battlefield 57 years
These men are the soldiers who, in the hours when
the earth's foundation shook, and the ground did
tremble, stood their ground amid the whine of
bullets, the blast of mortars and the zinging
sound of jagged artillery shrapnel filling the
air around them.
Some bear visible signs of their service: a
missing limb, a jagged scar, or a certain faraway
look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence
inside them: a steel pin holding a bone together
or a piece of shrapnel still in their arm or leg.
But they all bear another kind of inner steel,
a spirit forged with their comrades on that field
of battle. The spirit of a band of warriors, a
band of warriors called Veterans of the Battle
of the Bulge. Veterans bound together with a bond
as strong as right itself and as lasting as their
With their fellow warriors on that field of
battle, they followed duty's call and lived the
code of the soldier: duty, honor, country.
When history calls the roll of heroes, these
warriors earned the right to stand shoulder to
shoulder with their forebears from Valley Forge,
Fredericksburg and the Marne. Before them, the
Nazis' visions of glory drifted away like the
sound and fury of battle. When the smoke had cleared,
more than 120,000 enemy soldiers lay stiff in
the snow, wounded or captured, and over 800 enemy
tanks were left burning and rusting in the wooded
hills of the Ardennes.
THE BULGE WAS NO MORE.
During the final days of their countdown to
victory, these American soldiers were as pitiless
as a hanging judge as they brandished the sword
of retribution and raced across Germany, greeted
by signs on buildings all along the way: "Alles
And finally, the bells of liberty did ring and
peace spread her lovely mantle softly over the
land. The lights came on again all over.
With duty done, with their saber in their scabbard
placed and their colors furled away, their dreams
turned to the journey home, the harbor lights
of New York and the girl they left behind. Their
place in history secured as "the greatest
generation", the generation that saved the
sum of all things we hold dear. And all this for
love of their country and the meager pay of a
Ask yourselves now, with heads bowed, from where,
Oh God came such men as these?
This country was truly blessed.
The Ardennes woods are silent now,
The battle smoke has fled.
Fifty years and seven have past----
Now…only memories…and the dead.
May God Bless Each of You.
God Bless the USA.