Early on the misty winter morning of 16 December 1944, over 200,000 German troops and nearly 1,000 tanks launched Adolf Hitler’s last bid to reverse the ebb in his fortunes that had begun when Allied troops landed in France on D-day. Seeking to drive to the English Channel coast and split the Allied armies as they had done in May 1940, the Germans struck in the Ardennes Forest, a seventy-five-mile stretch of the front characterized by dense woods and few roads, held by four inexperienced and battle-worn American divisions stationed there for rest and seasoning….
On that cold December morning, U.S. and Allied forces in Europe found themselves under attack from the German army. The German counteroffensive was designed to divide the Allied forces, giving Hitler an advantage in the war. The Ardennes campaign came to be known in the U.S. as The Battle of the Bulge.
Seventy years later, in November 2014, VA’s digital media team sat down with four Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge to talk about their experiences in the Ardennes Forest, their military careers, and their thoughts on being a part of what many call “the greatest generation.” They include:
- DOUGLAS DILLARD was born September 14, 1925, and grew up in Atlanta, Ga., during the Great Depression. He was 16 when he volunteered to join the U.S. Army on July 3, 1942. After training, he was sent to Company A of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. Douglas makes his first combat jump on August 15, 1944, in the South of France.
- ALFRED SHEHAB was born in 1919 and grew up in Cape May, N.J. The son of Lebanese immigrants tried to join the free French Army when WWII broke out in Europe, but was stopped by his father. He later joined the U.S. Army in New York and graduated from OCS at Fort Knox in August, 1942. He was assigned to the 37th Armored Regiment, 4th Armored Division.
- MIKE LEVIN was born in Nebraska, and lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Vermont before joining the Army in 1942. He served as a lieutenant and artillery forward observer in the 7th Armored Division at the Battle of the Bulge.
- JOHN SCHAFFNER was born in Baltimore, Md., and was drafted right after high school at the age of 18. He served in the 106th Infantry Division beginning in March 1943 until it was reorganized in March 1945. The 106th saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Battle of the Bulge, with two of its three regiments being overrun and surrounded during the first three days of fighting.
On this 70th anniversary of the beginning of the battle, we honor the service of these Veterans and all those who fought by sharing this preview of VA’s “Living History: Battle of the Bulge.” The full-length interview will premiere in January 2015.
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.