Sunday, December 16, 2007

Battle of the Bulge

This is the 63rd anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

Perhaps one of the major turning points of World War II, the "Battle of The Ardennes" sounded the death knell to the German hopes of turning around the losing trend of the European phases of The War to End Wars to End Wars.

My mother's brother lost his life in this battle. Sgt. Douglas Phillips was killed in a battle which should never have been fought. He died three months before I was born, and because he was her 'favorite' brother ... being the 'baby' of the family ... she never reconciled herself to his death.

My father's older brother drove the first American tank into Rome, and came home safe and whole to regale his family with stories of The War.

His division was not close enough to Malmedy and Bastogne to relieve American forces there in the five weeks of this battle, but he certainly had the battle experience to claim brotherhood with those American forces who were there.

Yet these events preceded my birth, and my mother's pain was not my pain. I can appreciate the sacrifices and the American victory during this battle, but I cannot viscerally relate to it.

And so tonight I instead 'celebrated' the American 'victory' in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in 1965.

This was before I was inducted into the U.S. Army, certainly it was over 3 years before I went to Viet Nam to serve the political and military requirements of my company.

But an American reporter, Joe Galloway, wrote a book based upon his experiences while 'embedded' (in the most emphatic means possible) with the 1/7, 1st Cavalry Division, during that horrendous 3 day battle ... 450 American soldiers pitted against impossible odds, 2000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars who were already in place in an impregnable mountainside bunker complex.

I watched "We Were Soldiers Once, And Young" again tonight , for what must be at least the sixth time, and once again I found myself weeping for the combatants ... Vietnamese, American, and the dependents of the American soldiers. Any man who can watch this film without weeping has no appreciation for what it means to be a soldier in battle, and no appreciation for the fear and agony of his family ... whether or not he comes home again.

This battle occurred three years before my foot touched the soil of a battleground. I'm not sure I could have grieved more sincerely if I had been there. It is the soul of every American soldier who served in combat there.

It may be the closest my generation can come to appreciating the sacrifices and the turmoil which our fathers' generation experienced during the Battle of the Bulge.

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