On this day in 1944 . . . S.L.
There might actually be somebody who does not know this story, but if you are an American paratrooper, you probably know it by heart:
On December 22, 1944, at about 11:30 in the morning, a group of four German soldiers, waving two white flags, approached the American lines around Bastogne, Belgium. The senior officer was a Major Wagner of the 47th Panzer Corps. The junior officer, Lt. Hellmuth Henke of the Panzer Lehr Operations Section, was carrying a briefcase under his arm. The two enlisted men had been selected from the 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment.
The Americans defending in that location were members of F Company of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The Germans walked past a bazooka team in a foxhole in front of the Kessler farm and stopped in front of the foxhole of PFC Leo Palma, a B.A.R. gunner. Lieutenant Henke said in English, "I want to see the commanding officer of this section." The Germans explained that they had a written message to be presented to the American Commander in Bastogne. Henke said they would consent to being blindfolded and taken to the American Commanding Officer.
Upon receiving word from the front lines at Division Headquarters, the Acting Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Ned Moore awakened General McAulliffe and told him, "The Germans have sent some people forward to take our surrender." Moore recalled that Brig. Gen. McAuliffe, still half asleep, said "Nuts!" and started to climb out of his sleeping bag.
Moore then went back out into the Communications Center where he briefed the rest of the Division staff of the on-going situation, including telling them of McAulliffe's remark of "Nuts!"
When Maj. Jones arrived with the message, the staff looked at it before taking it in to McAulliffe.
The German surrender demand was typewritten on two sheets. One was in English, the other in German. They had been typed on an English typewriter as indicated by the fact that the diacritical marks required on the German copy had been entered by hand.
This is the English version of the message:
"December 22nd 1944
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet.
Libramont is in German hands.
There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.
If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours' term. All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.
The German Commander."
The Division Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard recalled that McAulliffe initially asked, "They want to surrender?" Moore told him, "No sir, they want us to surrender." McAulliffe arose and erupted in anger, which shocked those looking on. He took the paper, looked at it, said "Us surrender, aw nuts!" and dropped it on the floor. Maj. Jones was dismissed. McAulliffe then left the Headquarters to go congratulate a unit on the Western perimeter that had successfully taken out a German road block earlier that morning.
McAulliffe wondered aloud, "Well, I don't know what to tell them." At that point, Kinnard said, "What you said initially would be hard to beat." McAulliffe asked "What do you mean?" Kinnard, said, "Sir, you said nuts." All members of the staff enthusiastically agreed, so McAulliffe wrote it down on a message pad and said, "Have it typed up."
The reply was typed up, centered on a full sheet of paper. It read:
"December 22, 1944
To the German Commander,
N U T S !
The American Commander"
The German party returned to their lines. The two German officers then drove to the 901st Panzer Grenadier Regimental headquarters in Lutrebois. After reporting in, they left to go to the Panzer Lehr Division headquarters located about a mile further south. Just before reaching the Panzer Lehr Headquarters, they saw the car of General von Manteuffel parked by a thicket of trees. Maj. Wagner stopped and reported to the General. They then proceeded to the Panzer Lehr headquarters. General von Luettwitz, the Corps Commander, happened to be there. They presented the "NUTS" reply.
Upon hearing the negative reply, General Bayerlein, said it was time to start striking out with the heavy artillery located behind the hill. He was interrupted by General von Luettwitz who stated that the heavy artillery was no longer located there, it had been moved to forward positions past Bastogne. Bayerlein then started to explain how he would attack Bastogne without the heavy artillery, but was again interrupted by von Luettwitz. Von Luettwitz reminded Bayerlein that Bastogne was not his objective and ordered the Panzer Lehr Division to proceed around Bastogne to Rochefort and leave Bastogne to the 26th Volksgrenadier Division.
Well this is what I know about Bastogne; an old retired Special Forces Sergeant Major who lived around the corner from my house in North Carolina - the full blooded Payute Indian I often mention - every New Years Day he would throw a party in his workshop and all kinds of heroes would show up. One year I found myself sitting next to this one guy who looked older than dirt. Somehow the talk turned to World War II. This guy had jumped into Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, Holland and then across the Rhine - all five major Allied airborne operations in Europe.
Of course I was just sitting there trying not to say something stupid. From the time I was with the 82d Airborne, I'd met a few guys of his caliber. I asked him about Normandy. He told me what so many Normandy paratroopers had told me - that they were scattered all over the place, link up was very difficult. He said about 12 of them linked up with their battalion commander, who said "OK, this is what we've got - we're moving up on the objective!"
Their objective was one of those large coastal artillery emplacements, featuring a big square installation, about 50 meters X 50 meters interconnecting concrete lined trenches with a bunker on each corner. He said they just ran the length of those trenches and threw grenades ahead of them and into the bunkers and shot and killed every German they ran into. He said the twelve of them took over a hundred-man garrison, wiped them all out.
I said, "Holy Shit!"
He shrugged and said "It was like any other battle you've ever been in," saying this directly to me like I was in some shit like that. "We just did what we had to do and went on with it."
That action is very famous and I was already aware of it. To be sitting next to one of the guys who did it was . . . there are no words . . .
Then he mentioned his other actions, Operation Market Garden in Holland (Bridge Too Far campaign) and Bastogne, in the Battle of the Bulge.
I had to ask, "How on Earth did you guys hold off the 1st Waffen SS Panzer division - just paratroopers against tanks?"
He said, "We had some anti-tank artillery attached, and some bazookas.
"The bazookas weren't any good, though, those puny 2.3" rockets just bounced off the Panzer's frontal armor." Then he shrugged again, "We just did what we had to do, to hold out."
I said I heard they went into Belgium without any winter gear. He said, "That's right, all we had was white bedsheets over our summer uniforms."
"How on Earth did you handle the cold?"
"Oh my Lord," he said, shuddering like he was still there in the snow and the cold. "That was the coldest I have ever been in my entire life, before or since."
"For Christmas dinner, we were doing tactical feeding, one guy for every three would go back with our canteen cups, get the turkey stew ladled into it. By the time he got back to the foxhole, the turkey stew was frozen solid.
"We had to make little fires inside our foxholes to thaw it out. This was dangerous because the Germans might see the smoke. We had to keep an eye out for Germans the whole time. The woods were full of Germans."
I met guys like that throughout my career. Real heroes. Usually these guys don't tell war stories, this guy only shared because I asked him when did he serve and he said World War II, and because I was military, he opened up.
I was totally humbled, of course. I've met a lot of those guys, but he stood out.
I cannot imagine that level of combat. I thank them for what they did, and I thank God we had men like this on our side.
Merry Christmas . . .