Northeast Kansas veterans of Battle of the Bulge came together Saturday for the third annual commemoration of the event they fought in 67 years ago.
The Battle of The Bulge represented the last major German offensive of World War II, lasting from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 27, 1945. The Allied forces thwarted the German army’s attempt to capture the port city of Antwerp.
It was the longest and bloodiest battle in U.S. history, said Dr. Jerod Brown, of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. More than 200,000 died on both sides in a battle fought during one of the worst European winters on record.
Brown said the goal of the Germans was to attack what they considered to be a quiet sector of the country and a place where fighting would prove difficult for the Allied forces.
“American ingenuity, American tenacity, American bravery and the ability of the Americans to simply respond to something they could have never anticipated won out in the long run,” Brown said.
As a historian, Brown said the last thing he would want to see happen is for people to forget that portion of history.
“The best way to remember our history is to talk to those that made history,” Brown said.
Twenty-one veterans told their story to the audience at the American Legion Hall in Manhattan. Some kept it as simple as their name, hometown and company. Others had to be cut off for going over the time limit. All of them expressed a pride in what they were able to accomplish with their fellow soldiers.
Wallace Jeffery, of Manhattan, helped control the fighter planes, which weren’t able to get going until late in the battle because of fog. He said he was proud of the bravery displayed by the pilots.
“I remember our general saying, ‘We couldn’t help you when the fog was on, but we’d sure give them hell afterwards,’ ” he said.
They spoke of the cold weather, with many stating it was the coldest time they’ve ever experienced. The soldiers had to overcome snow as deep as 18 inches and blizzard-like conditions during the battle that lasted more than a month. “No one can realize how terrible it was until you’re there,” one veteran said.
Jim Sharp, who helped create the reunion along with Jeffery, Bill Stahl and the late Dick Jepsen, said there’s no way to warm up in a three-foot deep foxhole. “The Germans had broken through the lines, and I was the replacement for one of the 20 ,000 or 30,000 guys that were killed, wounded or captured,” he said.
John Mock, of Wichita, became a prisoner of war Dec. 22, 1944. Mock recalled his group stopping at a German first aid station where German officers gave the American and German forces a glass of Schnapps on Christmas Eve.
“They started singing ‘Silent Night’ in German,” he said. “We sang it in English. It sounds the same.”
Tad Pritchett, president of the Northeast Kansas Battle of the Bulge Veterans, said the event is held to teach people about what came before them.
“Freedom is a liberty that we so easily embrace, and we sometimes take it for granted,” Pritchett said. “It can be easily, easily lost. When it is lost, it’s very difficult to get back as veterans can tell you.”