And take a break from filling the wassail bowl with Rich Lowry’s moving and throught-provoking account of Christmas at the Bulge, as related in Stanley Weintraub’s new book “11 Days in December” (that was the horrible Yule of 1944, when our troops, having cracked German-occupied Europe on D-Day, had to fight their way to Germany day by grim day — and did so with bravery and high spirits, under the leadership of America’s toughest general, George S. Patton):
“The tale of the worst Christmas for American soldiers since Valley Forge, as Weintraub puts it, is especially resonant with American troops again in harm’s way on Christmas, this time in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they call on the same resources of bravery and perseverance as their forebears.
“The Allied breakout from Normandy in the summer had convinced Gen. Dwight Eisenhower that the war with Germany would be over by Christmas, but as the Allied advance slowed, the Germans hatched a plan to counterattack through the Ardennes forest. They hoped to punch though the thin Allied lines there and surround four Allied armies. In Hitler’s desperate delusion, the Allies in the West would be forced to come to terms. Behind the cover of the thick forest and the horrid weather, the Germans scored initial successes, creating the ‘bulge’ in the Allies’ line.
“American casualties reached at least 80,000 throughout the course of the battle. The troops fought in conditions that would, in other circumstances, have been a winter wonderland, among evergreen trees freshly covered in snow. American troops suffered frostbite, and the inclement weather favored the Germans, delaying reinforcements and neutralizing American air superiority.
“Soldiers who were lucky created makeshift Christmas trees by hanging grenades on pine trees. But GIs who were captured by the Germans were packed into boxcars in unsanitary conditions and got almost nothing to eat. ‘They filled the time wanly singing carols,’ Weintraub writes. ‘The Germans complained that it kept them awake and threatened to shoot if the songs didn’t cease.’
“‘At the front, German loudspeakers broadcast across the lines, ‘How would you like to die for Christmas?’ Americans didn’t intimidate so easily. One American soldier in the encircled city of Bastogne commented to another, ‘They?ve got us surrounded — the poor bastards.’ When a German commander demanded the surrender of the Americans at Bastogne, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe famously responded in a note, ‘To the German Commander: ‘Nuts!'”
In his diary, Patton wrote on Christmas Day: “A clear, cold, Christmas, lovely weather for killing Germans, which seems a bit queer seeing Whose birthday it is.” Persistence paid off; by early January, the Germans were in retreat and the Allies were moving to the Rhine.
It’s a wonderful story, and something to be pondered for the sake of our brave troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who won’t be home for Christmas this Christmas. Say a holiday prayer for them between the caroling and the feasting and the opening of presents.
And have a prosperous and healthy ’07. The ladies of the IWF hope to see you back here on Jan. 2.