The early morning of the 16th when the shelling began, John Schaffner recalled seeing hundreds of Germans. Drafted straight out of high school at the age of 18, Schaffner was with the 106th Infantry Division on Dec. 16, 1944, when the Battle of the Bulge began. The 106th saw some of the fiercest action of the battle, with two of its three regiments being surrounded during the first three days of fighting.
Just over a year ago, Schaffner sat down with three other World War II Veterans – Douglas Dillard, Alfred Shehab and Mike Levin – to share their stories with VA’s digital media team. The result was a four-part video web series, Living History: Battle of the Bulge.
In part one, we meet the four Army soliders — one each from the infantry, cavalry, airborne and artillery divisions. Surrounded by personal artifacts, uniforms and military memorabilia in the WWII History Room at Ft. Meade, Maryland, they reminisce about their younger days and joining the military.
In part two, our Veterans reflect on military life before the war and what it was like in the days leading up to Dec. 16. Alfred Shehab was sent to Europe as a replacement officer and was assigned to the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 102nd group. “It was the first American unit into Paris to cross into Germany in the first Army front,” Shehab explained.
Part three of the series explores the battle from each Veteran’s perspective. “That mad moment, I still see it,” Douglas Dillard, an airborne soldier, shared. Dillard joined the Army at the age of 16 and jumped into France in August 1944 with Company A of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion.
In the final part of the series, our Veterans discuss life after the war and the military. “When I got out of the Army, I went looking for a job and nobody needed any field artillery forward observers,” Mike Levin recalled with a laugh. Levin served as a lieutenant with the 7th Armored Division.
None of these men knew each other in 1944, but they shared a bond that was clear to see. They had survived the cold, the snow and the battle. They are four Veterans who shared their stories and perspectives 70 years after one of the largest battles of World War II.
Their courage is not to be forgotten. Just this week, the U.S. Army unveiled a new Battle of the Bulge webpage, featuring the Living History: Battle of the Bulge web series. On this anniversary of the beginning of the battle, we share with you their stories and, in doing so, honor the service of these Veterans and all who fought during World War II.
To watch the web series in four parts, follow any of the links above. Below is an edited version with all four parts that runs 34 minutes.
Living History: Battle of the Bulge was produced with the assistance of The Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, a membership organization dedicated to perpetuating the memory of the sacrifices involved during the Battle of the Bulge. To learn more about the Battle of the Bulge, its living Veterans and preserving the history and memory of the battle, visit the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge website.
Special thanks to the band Carbon Leaf for allowing us to use their song “The War Was in Color” as the opening theme for Living History: Battle of the Bulge. Thanks, also, to Synthesis Production for the use of their footage from the December 2014 reenactment of the battle in Recogne, Belgium.