Tuesday, December 16, 2014

World War II 'Battle of the Bulge' began this date: Dec. 16, 1944 -- with personal story of a veteran who was there.

World War II 'Battle of the Bulge' began this date: Dec. 16, 1944

On this day, the Germans launch the last major offensive of the war, Operation Mist, also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Battle of the Bulge, an attempt to push the Allied front line west from northern France to northwestern Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, so-called because the Germans created a "bulge" around the area of the Ardennes forest in pushing through the American defensive line, was the largest fought on the Western front.
The Germans threw 250,000 soldiers into the initial assault, 14 German infantry divisions guarded by five panzer divisions-against a mere 80,000 Americans. Their assault came in early morning at the weakest part of the Allied line, an 80-mile poorly protected stretch of hilly, woody forest (the Allies simply believed the Ardennes too difficult to traverse, and therefore an unlikely location for a German offensive). Between the vulnerability of the thin, isolated American units and the thick fog that prevented Allied air cover from discovering German movement, the Germans were able to push the Americans into retreat.

Massive loss of American and civilian life
The battle raged for three weeks, resulting in a massive loss of American and civilian life. Nazi atrocities abounded, including the murder of 72 American soldiers by SS soldiers in the Ardennes town of Malmedy. Historian Stephen Ambrose estimated that by war's end, "Of the 600,000 GIs involved, almost 20,000 were killed, another 20,000 were captured, and 40,000 were wounded." The United States also suffered its second-largest surrender of troops of the war: More than 7,500 members of the 106th Infantry Division capitulated at one time at Schnee Eifel. The devastating ferocity of the conflict also made desertion an issue for the American troops; General Eisenhower was forced to make an example of Private Eddie Slovik, the first American executed for desertion since the Civil War. The war would not end until better weather enabled American aircraft to bomb and strafe German positions. The date was 25 January 1945.

Patriotic 85-year-old World War II veteran talks about 'The Greatest Generation': Robert T. Bradacich fought in Battle of the Bulge

Wilmington NC June 13, 2010 12:30 AM MST)

 By Verne Strickland   
Bob was attending the grand opening of an expanded headquarters space for Pantano for Congress -- GOP nominee for North Carolina’s Seventh District of the U.S. Congress.
“I don’t have much time left,” said 85-year-old Robert T. (Bob) Bradicich.
It was a candid “open microphone” comment before I went into an interview with this World War II veteran at a campaign event for Ilario Pantano. I knew what Bob meant, and it broke my heart.
Ilario had introduced us moments before, saying, “Bob’s an amazing guy and a great friend. He’s been there.”
“There” was Bob’s war. Normandy shortly after the D-Day landings. The liberation of Paris. Fighting through Belgium and Luxembourg. The Seigfried Line. The Battle of the Bulge.. The German blitzkrieg.
Many times, on many a chaotic battlefield, Bob – in those earlier times, in his youth -- had thought the same words that slipped out just before our interview: “I don’t have much time left.” That was in war. Now, in 2010, it is not war, but age that is stalking him.
A total of 16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. There were 291,557 battle deaths, 113,842 other deaths in service (non-theater), and 671,846 non-mortal woundings. As of September 30, 2009, there were approximately 2,272,000 American veterans still living.
The ranks of these survivors are thinning at an increasing rate. Approximately 850 American World War II veterans die every day. The median age for a World War II veteran in February 2009 was 86 years.
So I sat with this wonderful unassuming American hero – a plain-spoken New Yorker now living in Wilmington – a dues-paying member of the Greatest Generation, aptly named by Tom Brokaw.
As an active and enthusiastic volunteer for Ilario Pantano, Bob speaks to groups about the war. He wants them to know what it was like. Not to shame them, but to remind them of the price of freedom.

 “I talk about the sailors at sea, whose ship goes down, and lay in unmarked graves under the ocean, and the airmen shot down, and for me, as an infantryman. I told them that when I dig a foxhole, I don’t know if that’s going to be my grave or not. I may have dug a hundred foxholes in France, and had the same thought every time.”
Bob’s humility is genuine and endearing.
“After I got through with my talk, the people applauded. That surprised me. But it was great to know they understood. That meant a lot to me.”
Why is this remarkable American patriot at a campaign program for a Republican candidate approximately fifty years younger than he is?
“I’m here because I believe in what Ilario Pantano stands for. The United States is losing a lot of our freedoms, and I want Ilario to go to the U.S. Congress and get America back to its roots – a country of the people, by the people, and for the people – so that we can live in peace again. And may that happen. Oh, God, I hope it does.”
Bob wrote a book. It’s a good one. Honest, matter-of-fact, full of his personal stories of battles -- horror, loss, victories, courage, and his buddies in the 28th Infantry Division. Some survived. Many didn’t.
“I’m not a hero,” Bob reminded. “The heroes are the ones who didn’t return. They paid dearly. I just gave them time. Yes, I was fighting over there. But they gave everything. I came back.”
This is a statement made by many survivors of combat. There is almost a hint of guilt that they did not die too. Maybe those who returned from any and every war will never be totally relieved of this feeling while on this earth. It’s futile to tell them otherwise – that they fought valiantly, and owe nothing more. But they do know and respond graciously to true expressions of appreciation.
We owe them this.

“World War II, As I Lived It”, by Robert T. Bradicich, is the story of Mr. Bradicich’s experiences in World War II, in Europe, 1943 – 1945, while serving as a rifleman with the 28th Division, 110th Regimental Combat Team, Company ‘E’ ASN 32885196. It is a compelling personal story, and is illustrated with both color and black-and-white photographs. Copyright @ 2000 by Robert Bradicich. For information about copies, contact the author at     Bobb7@atmc.net.