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World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving the majority of the world’s nations, including all of the major world powers at the time, eventually forming two opposing alliances, known as the Allies and the Axis. While estimates on the number of the war’s casualties vary, it is thought to have been around 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians.


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Battle of the Bulge

battle of the bulge

I was in Santa Fe, visiting my mother and dad a few years ago, and as we all finished our supper one night, relaxed and ready to simply chit-chat, my father, who had never spoken of his days as a young soldier in World War II, began to describe the last battle he was ever in.

He began with, "We were supposed to go to North Africa, so we weren't outfitted for Belgium." He described the bone-chilling cold of his trench in the forest, and how, after he was injured, he was moved against the wall of the remains of a building along with a pile of men -- dead, dying, and injured mingled together -- to await transport out once the weather cleared enough for the Allied planes to get through.

My jaw nearly hit the table, and I glanced at my mother, who stared bug-eyed at him as he spoke, seemingly believing that such discussion had been part of our family tradition forever.

But not so! Their entire marriage, my mother tiptoed around anything that might remind him of anything having to do with the war. She took great pains to never allow a war movie on the television if he was at home. While he would speak about his time working for the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes, he made it sound as if that were his only "job" in the Army, though we all knew better.

So when he began to talk about how cold it was Christmas Eve in his trench in the Ardennes Forest, we knew it was the war he was talking about, though being that I was a female raised in the 1950s and 1960s, I had studiously stayed far away from details about wars and battles, and so it was that I was entirely unfamiliar in the late 1990s with World War II. It wasn't until a few hours later, when he'd exhausted himself talking about it, that I hopped on the internet to figure out what he was talking about.

It turned out that it was the Battle of the Bulge, fought in the harsh winter of 1944-1945 in the Ardennes Forest in the mountains where Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and France meet. This was the longest and bloodiest World War II battle fought by the Americans.

The Forest had a history of war, and was there Charlemagne's most important battles took place. It was also the site of the Battle of the Ardennes in World War I.

In October of 1944, General Eisenhower needed troops, and given that the Ardennes had terrain which offered defensive positioning and the area did not have operational objectives, he felt that the troops there could be thinned.

On December 14, 1944, the German Army launched a surprise attack by more than 30 divisions against the Allied lines in the Ardennes. Hitler had ignored the disapproval of his generals where this strategy was concerned, and launched this ambitious plan to capture Antwerp while driving a wedge between the American and British forces in northern France, decimate the British 21st Army Group as well as the American First and Ninth Armies there.

The Allied planes had been grounded due to extremely bad weather during the storms, and the Germans were able to catch the Allies by surprise, though the resistance was solid and stalled for enough time for the Allied soldiers to stage a resurgence and for more troops to arrive to join in the battle.

The Brits sent planes as the bad weather began to clear up, and between that and the blockades which would not allow German troops access to the roads, the offensive resulted in a large bulge in the Allied lines and denied the Germans access to the Meuse River, which was their first objective.

The battle went on until January 25, 1945, by which time the American soldiers had retaken all of the ground they originally lost, and this win played a part in the final defeat of Germany. But in the process, more than half a million American soldiers fought, and according to the official United States Department of the Army, there were 108,347 casualties, including 19,246 killed, 62,489 wounded, and 26,612 captured and missing.

And my Dad? Well, he told us that night that he was airlifted from that pile of casualties and spent some time in an army hospital somewhere, a terrified 23 year old soldier who wanted anything but to return to the fight, though he would have died before admitting that at the time.

During his recuperation, he was befriended by another soldier who was recuperating, and it turned out that friend was some guy with clout at Stars & Stripes, the U.S. Army newspaper. Strings were pulled, and my dad spent the rest of the war, and quite a bit of time after that, as a photographer for that organization, snapping pictures of people and places throughout Europe.

He never brought up the war again, as far as I know, though he and my daughter had a very long and private talk in his study just before she was deployed to Iraq, and neither of them have ever divulged what they discussed, other than her disclosure that he gave her "good advice." But he's only in his early 90s now, and it could happen again any time.

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