January 13, 2011
Posted in 101st Airborne Division, 90th Infantry Division, Battle of the Bulge, Ed Persons, Everytown USA, Hobert Winebrenner, World War II
This kind of weather has the History Junkie thinking of the Battle of the Bulge. The cold. The snow. Hell, HJ even woke up this weekend to thick dense fog.
Following the D-Day landing at Normandy, Adolf Hitler witnessed his German forces being systematically pushed toward the homeland. In December, he struck back, with the counteroffensive for the ages. It came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
But perhaps even more than the enemy they faced, Battle of the Bulge veterans remember that deadliest of winters, December 1944 into January 1945. “We couldn’t build fires,” Ernie Leatherman of the 2nd Armored Division said. “You lived just like a dog out in a snowstorm. It was tough. … It was one of the hardest times of my life.”
“There were no fires,” Ed Persons, who served with the 101st Airborne Division, agreed. “I still freeze to death in the wintertime. … The one time, I was in a foxhole with a buddy. We got cut-off and tried to get up and get out, but neither of us could walk. It was that cold! We lost so many guys to frostbite and trench foot. So damn cold!
“We just didn’t have any winter clothes. We’d take our shirts off and wrap newspaper around our upper bodies, then put our shirts back on. Newspaper was a very good insulator.”
“As for proper clothing, we just didn’t have it, or not nearly enough of it,” 90th Infantry Division trooper, Hobert Winebrenner, explained. “The army dropped the ball and GIs paid the price. While on line, I remember shivering uncontrollably, hour after hour, day after day.
“Our boots didn’t get the job done either. … Continually buried in the snow, our feet were always wet. I’d never seen so many black toes in all my life. Frostbite and trench foot sent more GIs from the field than enemy bullets.
“There were instances when we actually cut up portions of our blankets and tied them with twine around our feet. We wrapped paper, cardboard, whatever we could get our hands on, around our upper torsos as insulation.
“…Dysentery ran rampant. In varying degrees, every man suffered from a cold or pneumonia. We weren’t eating. We weren’t sleeping. Our minds and bodies were shutting down. But still, we carried on. I witnessed GIs stay on line, when they belonged in a hospital. I saw men refuse to take their boots off because they knew they’d never get them back on again.
“The Bulge wasn’t about the American Flag or even God above. It was about that guy beside you–that sorry shivering soldier, and those in the next foxhole, and so on, and so forth, down the line. For me, they stuck it out. For them, I refused to quit. Bonds formed at the Bulge will never be broken.”
American casualties at the Battle of the Bulge topped 80,000 men.