Bulge vets to gather for third time

By Paul Harris

It’s been 67 years since the Battle of the Bulge, but those who survived still remember it. For the third year in a row, a group of northeast Kansas veterans will get together here next weekend to discuss the battle while enjoying the company of family members.

The reunion will be held at the American Legion Post No. 17, 114 McCall Road, on Saturday. Members of the public are also invited.

The Battle of The Bulge is considered to be the last major German offensive of World War II. The German army was trying to capture the port city of Antwerp, but a tired group of Allied forces kept them at bay through brutal winter conditions and essentially dissolved the German army. It was also the largest and bloodiest battle fought in World War II.

Manhattan resident and Bulge veteran Jim Sharp first thought of a reunion after meeting with a retired Junction City lawyer named Bill Stahl, who wanted to read Sharp’s book about the battle. Sharp figured there wouldn’t be more than three or four veterans remaining in each city.

Instead, 27 veterans showed up and the first annual gathering attracted a crowd of nearly 200. Sharp said the group will continue to meet, but with members continuing to age, it’s getting harder and harder for some to make the trip to Manhattan.

Tad Pritchett, the current president of the Northeast Kansas Veterans chapter of the Battle of the Bulge, said the age range of the group’s current members is 90 to 99.

Pritchett believes that commemorating the battle is important not only for the sake of history, but also as a vehicle of emotional relief for the veterans.

“To get with people that they can relate to is really therapeutic,” Pritchett said. “When I did my book on these people, they told me stories they never told anyone before. It’s a great opportunity for them to get it off their chest.”

Sharp, who has written books on the battle, echoed the sentiment, “I think it does a lot for them,” he said.

Sharp said explaining the Battle of the Bulge to someone unfamiliar with it is “like explaining Pythagorean theorem to a third grader.” Most people, he said,  don’t have an inkling of what transpired. “You have to have some connection in order to understand it.”

Pritchett, a Vietnam Vet, attended the first function and was so swept away that he started to attend monthly meetings with 10-12 veterans.

This year’s get-together will have a reception so Veterans can mingle with one another. Pritchett is going to put on a presentation showing all of the veterans where each of them fought. None of the soldiers were in the same unit, Pritchett added.

Then the veterans will get up and say which division they were in and a little bit of their background.

The public is invited to attend. There will be a display of artifacts of old military vehicles and other WWII artifacts. Jerold Brown, an expert on the Battle of the Bulge, will present a historical view of the assault. Brown works with the command staff at Fort Leavenworth.

Sharp said the chapter will continue to put the event on as long as they can, but it’s going to be handed on to future generations.

“It’s open to the public because we are trying to get to that second generation people,” he said. “We need to get these people involved and for volunteers to step up and help out.”

The event is free and open to the general public. Lunch at the reception costs $10. To make reservations, contact Megan at the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce at 785-776-8829.

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