On my last deployment, I had occasion to be conducting a patrol on the days leading up to Christmas. I had specific orders from my Commander that my patrol was not to be “On the road” on Christmas day (Brigade directive). I assured him that we would be inside the wire before Christmas Eve was through, or we’d stay somewhere else in relative safety.
The patrol back from Kirkuk was uneventful by our standards (this was pre “Surge”), and I was very fortunate that we did indeed make it back to our FOB with 10 minutes to spare on Christmas Eve. I was asked by a friend why it was so important that we make it back, instead of staing over in Kirkuk (It was a really nice FOB)? My answer was simply this. We all had good friends within the Company, but not necessarily within our patrol.
I felt that it was important that my guys were able to spend Christmas Day with the closest friends they had in the Company. Even though we were so far from home, being able to sit down and have Christmas dinner with friends, that were as close as any family, was important. Morale is important and, as a leader, doing everything you can to raise it in your men is of utmost importance.
Below is an excerpt from a story I’ve heard before, but never read the specifics about till recently. This awesome story is something that points out to civility of man even in the most dire and dangerous of situations.
December 16th marks the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge – – one of the bloodiest and most desperate engagements in history, Suddenly, at dawn on that quiet morning, the Western Front exploded as over 2,300 tanks spearheaded a German force of over 1,300,000 million through the lightly defended Ardennes forest onto the unsuspecting Allies. Overall, the attackers enjoyed a three-to-one advantage in manpower, (more than ten-to-one in the assault areas), but more importantly, the majority of these soldiers were raised just for this moment, (most born between 1925-28) and possessed a fanatical Nazism bent on defending their “Fatherland”.
Most of the American defenders fought hard and well against this onslaught, but they, for the most part, couldn’t stem the Teutonic tide – thousands were captured or killed while others were subject to horrific SS atrocities. Overall, a large salient, or “bulge” cut through the Belgium frontier and with un-flyable weather hindering any countering Allied aircraft, there seemed no way of stopping the Germans. Within hours, hundreds of German tanks were now on the loose behind the front lines, free to move in every direction and destroy anything in their path.
But while many bravely held to the last, overall panic ensued — as thousands of shocked Americans retreated in disarray, leaving behind tanks, artillery, food, ammunition and vehicles. It was a rout not encountered by the American army since the first Battle of Bull run eighty-three years earlier.
“Run! Run! They’ll murder you! They’ve got everything, tanks, machine guns, air power everything!”
“They were just babbling” Major Dick Winters, 101st Airborne and of “Band of Brothers” fame recalls, “It was pathetic. We felt ashamed.”
It was reminiscent of the pursuit the Allies enjoyed the summer before as they routed the Germans out of France. But the main difference between the German retreat of August and the American retreat of December 1944 was that as the majority of beaten, terrified G.I.s fled West down the middle of the roads, there were combat troops on each side headed East, veteran soldiers marching once again to the sound of the guns.
At dawn on December 19th, as German tanks prepared to surround Bastogne, the 101st marched in to join elements of the 10th Armored Division and 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion still holding out and creating a bastion — a total of 12,000 men against four German divisions. Soon surrounded on all sides, the Americans had no choice but to hold. The paratroops who, after serving 77 days on the line in Holland, were rushed to the front — low on ammunition and with no winter clothing. But they made due, taking ammunition from the fleeing and stuffing straw and burlap into and around their clothing and feet.
It was, on Christmas Eve just east of Bastogne’s city limits were one amazing encounter took place — a little “Peace on Earth”. As Mark Bando describes it in his book, “Vanguard of the Crusade – The 101st Airborne Division in World War II (Aberjona Press, 2003):
On 24 December, First Sergeant Donald Deam of Service/501st went to a Christmas party of HQ/101st and obtained an armload of champagne and cognac to carry out to his men on the line near Mont. Returning just before dusk, Deam followed the railroad track eastward, then cut through the underpass. While under the railroad culvert, Deam came face to face with a German sergeant, who entered from the opposite side. Both men made a frantic grab for their weapons, slipping and sliding on the icy ground. Their eyes met, and Deam smiled and winked at the German.
“Got a cigarette, Yank?” the German said in English.
Both men relaxed, sat down, and began to talk. They produced photos of their relatives from wallets, exchanged names and addresses, and shared a bottle of cognac. Deam learned that the German was a Frankfurt college graduate.
After that brief interlude from the war, the two enemies parted from opposite sides of the culvert. Each man raised his weapon – an MP40 and a Tommy gun – and fired a burst straight up in the air.”
Now the best part…
Decades after the war, Donald Deam was contacted by the daughter of his “enemy”. She was working as an interpreter for the U.N. in New York at the time. She had kept a promise to her father to visit his friend if she ever made it to the United States and did so. Deam learned that his friend had indeed survived the war, but sadly passed away in 1975. I have yet to find the name of the German soldat, but will keep searching.
This past fall, Mark went to the Bastogne area and actually FOUND the very tunnel that Sgt. Deam and the German NCO spent Christmas Eve.
Donald Lewis Deam passed away on October 9th 2008.
If you can remember, please take a moment this Christmas Eve to stop, reflect and say a prayer for our gallant servicemen and woman around the world. They like those “Battered Bastards of Bastogne” still the hold the line, and are away from their friends and family this Christmas,
And while you’re at it, raise a glass in toast for Donald Deam, who I’m sure will once again be sharing a bottle of Christmas cognac in Heaven with his “enemy.”
Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Here’s another short story which included the picture shown above,
Dec. 23, 1944 – “Battle of the Bulge” – An entire U.S. armored division was retreating from the Germans in the Ardennes forest when a sergeant in a tank destroyer spotted an American digging a foxhole. The GI, PFC Martin, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, looked up and asked, “Are you looking for a safe place?” “Yeah” answered the tanker. “Well, buddy,” he drawled, “just pull your vehicle behind me…
I’m the 82nd Airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are going.”
The poster (Above) is a photograph of a dirty, scrappy, tough young paratrooper, PFC Vernon Haught, of the 325th GIR, marching in the dead of that cold, snowy winter with a rucksack on his back. Going towards the battle as other American forces were retreating in Belgium. His expression leaves no doubt about his determination. He is moving out to go toe-to-toe with the enemy. As you look at the poster, it strikes you that nowhere in this photograph do you see a parachute. And you and I both know there doesn’t have to be one — you simply know from the look: he’s Airborne.
I read this story again the other day and my response to the poster on Facebook was this,
“I’ve been asked a number of times why I’d ever wanted to be “Airborne” anything, considering that I’m scared to death of heights. This is why. “Airborne” is not only about parachuting and the parachute. Parachutes are just a means of deployment on the battlefield. It’s about the mindset, motivation, and willingness to stand in harms way that sets the “Airborne” apart.”
Merry Christmas to all and have a joyious holliday season
American by BIRTH, Infidel by CHOICE