65 Years Ago Today


/US Army Signal Corps

CHAPTER 20 CHRISTMAS EVE

CHRISTMAS EVE WAS QUIET. The commanders and staffs took official notice of the occasion. To all of the command posts within Bastogne went a G-2 reminder from the 101st’s chief joker, Colonel Danahy. It was a sitrep overlay in red, white and green, the red outlining the enemy positions completely encircling the town and the green showing only in the words “Merry Christmas” across the position held by the defenders.1 (Map 18, page 156.)

General McAuliffe also rose to the occasion with an inspired communiqué in which he told his men about the German demand for surrender and his answer to them. The rest of his Christmas message read as follows:

What’s merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting, it’s cold, we aren’t home. All true, but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? Just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the north, east, south and west. We have identifications from four German panzer divisions, two German infantry divisions and one German parachute division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were heading straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Division’s glorious history but in world history. The Germans actually did surround us, their radios blared our doom. Allied troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied armies. We know that our Division commander, General Taylor, will say: “Well done!” We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a merry Christmas.2

Privately, on the phone that night to General Middleton, McAuliffe expressed his true feeling about Christmas in these words:

Map 18
“The finest Christmas present the 101st could get would be a relief tomorrow.”

But General McAuliffe’s greeting to his troops proved to be in every part a prophetic utterance though the quiet of Christmas Eve did not last for long.

That night the town was bombed twice. During the first raid, in the late evening, a bomb landed on the hospital of the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion near the intersection of the main roads from Arlon and Neufchâteau. It caved in the roof, burying 20 patients and killing a Belgian woman who was serving as a nurse. Another bomb landed on the headquarters of Combat Command B, doing heavy damage and knocking down the Christmas tree in the message center. The men set up the tree again, and in an elaborate ceremony, one of the sergeants pinned the Purple Heart on a mangled doll.2A

Except for those bombings Christmas Eve passed without unusual pressure from the enemy. (Plate 35 A and B.) The journal entries of the different regiments all use the word “quiet” in describing the period. But that is a word that simply does not record the tumult in the thoughts and emotions of the men of Bastogne. Such was their reaction to the Christmas and to the memories surrounding it, that for the first time all around the perimeter men felt fearful. It seemed to them that the end was at hand. That night many of them shook hands with their comrades. They said to one another that it would probably be their last night together. Many of the commanders saw this happening, though they knew it had little relation to the still strong tactical situation.2B (Map 19, page 158, shows the situation.)

In the 502d Parachute Infantry the officers heard Christmas Eve Mass in the tenth-century chapel of the beautiful Rolle Château (plate 34) which they were using for a command post.” It was a happy occasion, well attended by the neighboring Belgians who had rounded out the regimental messes with contributions of flour and sides of beef from their own stores.4

. . .

See also:
Bastogne: The Story Of The First Eight Days In Which The 101st Airborne Division Was Closed Within The Ring Of German Forces
Bastogne: The Story Of The First Eight Days In Which The 101st Airborne Division Was Closed Within The Ring Of German Forces (Hardcover)
Bastogne – Dec. 1944, a journal
Siege of Bastogne

And you think you have problems?

/take a few moments today to give prayers and thanks for those troops, away from home on Christmas Eve, past, present, and future, who have sacrificed and will sacrifice to defend and protect your uniquely American way of life, freedom isn’t free

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