One American Veteran’s Memory of the Battle of the Bulge
“One thing I noticed, that the Argonne Forest, so many bullets had gone through there that the trees were mostly stumps. Very few branches on the trees there…”
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the U.S. in World War II. At the age of 20, my Uncle Lewey left his home on the family farm in Wisconsin and, along with hundreds of thousands of others, played his role in that battle.
Seven years ago my son Phineas interviewed him, as part of a school project he was doing on World War II. Here are some excerpts from that interview…
PR: Before you left, what was the Depression like, back at home?
LP: Oh, way back in the 30s?
PR: Oh. No, I mean, just before you were about to leave for the war, what was it like in America?
LP: Well, it was about the same as usual. Farmers were farming, and people were working, it wasn’t that bad. I wouldn’t have had to have gone, but I just thought maybe I should.
PR: When and where did you arrive in France?
LP: When did I arrive in France? Well, let’s see. I went in in 44 and I had my basic training, and I went to France in 45. 1945. Then from France we went to Germany. We went over on a boat, it was the Mariana. It was an English luxury liner. There were, I think 5,000 guys on that thing, and they each had hammocks to sleep in, and there was six of ‘em in a row, one on top of the other. And the one on the top one, he had the advantage because the ones below, there, it wasn’t so good. One time I was going through the chow line, and I got my food and the guy ahead of me ate his, and he came to the barrel where they throw the scraps and got to the barrel, and he threw up right there. Y’see, bein’ on a boat can make some people seasick. And it was a big one, but…it was kind of interesting. And then another thing that happened is, on the way over there, they realized there were some submarines around there. But they threw bombs over the side at the submarines…The submarines didn’t get us. I don’t know if we got the submarines or not…but they didn’t get us. Cuz we didn’t have any other ships around us to protect us. So that was how they did it…
PR: So, what was your job in the Battle of the Bulge?
LP: I was a radio repairman. And do you know how we checked the radios?
PR: No, how?
LP: Well, that was when they had tubes, y’know? And I would feel them to see if it was warm. And if it was warm it was working, and if it was cold it wasn’t working, and I’d replace it. That’s all I had to do. So, I really didn’t fix any. But there was other things going on…
PR: Did the American soldiers, did their impression of the Nazis before the war influence their fighting during the war? Do you think their impression of the Nazis and their being all, like, scary and everything, did that make their fighting better or worse? Or do you think it didn’t matter…
LP: I don’t think it mattered very much. It just depended on the situation at hand.
PR: Did you ever have any encounters with the Nazi Army yourself?
LP: Well, in a way. I was walkin’ through the woods one day to get back to camp, and a sniper shot at me. I didn’t see him. But the bullet went about two feet from me. So I walked a little faster and hoped I was going in the right direction, and he didn’t get another shot at me. So I was pretty happy about that.
PR: Oh. Whoa. (pause) What was the most difficult part of being there, in the Battle of the Bulge?
LP: Well, one of the most difficult parts was, one of the guys I took Basic with, didn’t come back. And another interesting thing that happened was, one of the guys I took my Basic training with, he was in a Recon company and I was in Headquarters company. And they were going between two big hills, and there was a camouflaged machine-gun nest that shot out the front vehicle and the back vehicle. And then they were gonna get the rest of ‘em. But my friend, he had a jeep with a 50-caliber machine gun on it, and he backed off the road, and he kept them pinned down until everybody got out. He saved that whole recon company. I thought he did pretty good…
LP: He got the Bronze Star for doin’ that…(laughs)…One of the interesting things was when we went, they called us reinforcements. And the reason we went there is because quite a few of them had been killed. And instead of calling them “replacements,” they called them “reinforcements.” (laughs) Yeah, see it was a tank destroyer battalion that I was in. They had tank destroyers that were a lot like a tank. But they didn’t have much armor on them. And…I didn’t drive any of the tanks, I didn’t feel bad about that….they were big creatures!
Then one of the interesting things that happened when we were over there, we even got a vacation. We got to go to Switzerland, and there it was amazing. They had hills of alfalfa that were at 45 degrees. And the women would cut the hay, with a scythe, and rake it up, and put it in stacks, and it was sure different than it is here.
PR: At the time of the war, how did you feel about America’s situation? Were you confident, or worried, or what?
LP: Well, see, Hitler, he was gettin’ his way with things and y’know, it only takes 10 men out of a hundred, to control the other 90. And if they get control, there isn’t a very easy way to stop ‘em. And I thought it was time I should help in getting rid of ‘em. And I did.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of literature and writing. This post is one in a series of her personal tributes to those who contributed to regaining Europe’s freedom in World War II.