Trench Foot, Pneumonia, Frostbite
We finally got some snow last week. The official total here in the Roanoke Valley was eight inches which isn’t all that impressive, I suppose, but for some areas of southwest Virginia and beyond, it meant closings/ cancellations and even some power outages. (Not at our house, thankfully.) It was beautiful but difficult to shovel the next day because freezing rain/sleet was sandwiched between two snow events. But, with some assistance from Mr. Sun when we really needed it, our driveway was useable by midafternoon.
I’m from Iowa, so I love snow. (It’s not a requirement for all Iowans to love or even like snow, but it is for me.) I have lived where it never snows (South Texas and the San Francisco Bay area in California) and I really missed it. The two most significant snowfalls of my adult years actually happened in Virginia—24 inches in northern Virginia in February 1979 (our yellow Ford Maverick and white VW Rabbit are almost buried as you can see) and close to 24 inches in January 1996 in the Roanoke Valley. Both of those snow events pretty much closed or cancelled everything for several days. My one and only snow skiing adventure took place in Pennsylvania on February 16, 1979. It was gobs of fun! I was definitely in my element.
I love the stillness of a heavy snowfall. We live close to a major road, and the lack of traffic noise when snow falls is conspicuous. Aside from the occasional snowplow barreling by and a few essential workers who must be out and about, most people in our part of Virginia stay put when the white stuff covers everything in sight. They should—most native Virginians don’t do well on snowy roads.
Seventy-seven years ago yesterday, January 25, 1945, World War II’s Ardennes Campaign, or the Battle of the Bulge, ended in the hilly and wooded Ardennes region of Belgium in western Europe. Winston Churchill called it “the greatest American battle of the war.” Lasting six brutal weeks, it was Adolf Hitler’s last major offensive on the Western Front. In the end, the Germans failed in their quest to overtake the Allies in the Ardennes Forest, cross the Muese River, and capture the vital deep-water port at Antwerp in northern Belgium. But you can’t say they didn’t give it everything they had.
In mid-December 1944, western Europe was experiencing one of its most severe winters in sixty years. At least eight inches of snow covered the ground (much more in some areas), the temperatures were frigid (especially at night, of course), and freezing rain, thick fog, and blowing snow hindered the American response to the surprise attack by the Germans. Visibility was reduced to almost zero in some areas, grounding superior Allied air support for several days. Most of the American troops who faced the initial onslaught from the Germans were either new and inexperienced replacements or battle-worn, tired veterans. It didn’t start well for the Allies.
During the six-week battle, temperatures plummeted as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Each morning, tanks on both sides had to be chiseled out of ice after they froze to the ground overnight. The ground was so cold, they used TNT to blow holes for foxholes. Many wounded soldiers froze to death before they could be rescued, and tens of thousands of American troops were treated for frostbite, pneumonia, and trench foot. Years after the war, one U.S. Army veteran told an interviewer that he thought about the Battle of the Bulge every time it snowed where he lived. I suspect he thought about it more often than that.
Just before Christmas 1944, the weather cleared enough for Allied planes to proceed with their effective sorties. The aerial barrage was enough to severely hinder the German advance, but it took another month for the Allies to claim victory in the Ardennes.
The Battle of the Bulge would be the costliest battle ever fought by the United States Army. One estimate gives the casualty figure (dead and injured) at more than 100,000. German loses were even greater.
Thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration digital collections, I have a few "guest bloggers" in this week's post. You'll find several interesting documents related to the Battle of the Bulge above. (Click on the page to enlarge it if you want to read it.)
— Cable from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, 19 Dec 1944 (1 page)
— Cable from Gen. Eisenhower to Gen. Omar Bradley, 19 Dec 1944 (1 page)
— Transcript of telephone conversation between Gen. Bradley and Gen. Harold Bull, 21 Dec 1944 (1 page)
— Cable from Field Marshal Montgomery to Gen. Eisenhower, 21 Dec 1944 (2 pages)
— SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) Outgoing Message to every member of the Allied Expeditionary Force from Gen. Eisenhower, 22 Dec 1944 (2 pages)
— Letter from Field Marshal Montgomery (“Monty”) to Gen. Eisenhower, 29 Dec 1944 (2 pages)
— Gen. Eisenhower diary entry, 21 Jan 1945 (5 pages)
As you might expect, you’ll find a couple of selections in our personal DVD library that tell the Battle of the Bulge story, at least in part. Patton is one (1970—George C. Scott, Karl Malden). It won seven Academy Awards in 1971, including Best Picture and Best Actor for George C. Scott. (He refused to accept the award.) Jerry Goldsmith composed and conducted the Oscar-nominated score for Patton. I am “four degrees of separation” from Jerry Goldsmith. He was my husband’s composition professor’s sister’s husband. I think that’s four degrees.
Episode no. 6 of the excellent HBO series Band of Brothers is set in the Ardennes Forest. It’s worth another look if you haven’t seen it recently.
My dad’s first cousin, Wayne Johnson, was a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded during the battle and received both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. We called him “Uncle Wayne” and he was one of my most favorite relatives. He and his lovely wife Kay took me with them to East Lansing, Michigan one weekend during the fall of my freshman year at Iowa (1970). Their daughter Jane lived there with her family, and I got to spend a couple of days with my friend Nancy who was a freshman at Michigan State. On Saturday afternoon, Nancy and I joined the throng in Spartan Stadium and watched the MSU football team wallop the Iowa football team 37 zip (ugh). But beyond that, it was a memorable visit and I’m proud to say Nancy and I are still great friends after all these years.
Dear loyal readers,
Head’s up . . . I’m taking another break from blogging. I’ll be involved in a virtual writers’ conference the first week of February, and I’m also enrolled in an online course that deserves more attention than it’s getting. My Mother’s Friend also needs some handholding. I’ll be back on February 23rd for my dad’s 100th birthday.
Thanks for your patience. I’ll miss you.
Here’s something I just discovered yesterday.
“What is a sally?”
A sally is a military action, a sudden charge in the direction of the enemy. A sally sometimes has the advantage of taking the opposing army by surprise. When soldiers who have been on the defensive, having retreated to a foxhole or fort, make an abrupt offensive attack on their opponents, it’s a sally.
How 'bout that!
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.