Seventy-six years ago, this week, an exhausted, embattled Free World fell into a near-fatal tailspin. History calls that moment, which lasted a month, The Battle of the Bulge. It bears remembering.
In early December 1944, America and allies seemed unstoppable, first Normandy in June, then liberating Paris in August, German border by September, pushing the Siegfried line by October.
But something was not right. Nazi troops kept probing Allied front lines. If they were on their heels, destined for imminent defeat, why probe Allied lines for weakness?
On December 16, 1944, Hitler struck – achieving near total surprise – with 450,000 troops, 1500 Tiger tanks, 2600 artillery, 1600 anti-tank guns, 1000 combat aircraft. The plan was split the Allies, drive them to Antwerp, and sue for peace. They would hit Bastogne to the South, Eisenborn Ridge to the north.
Probes showed those were weak. In the South, Germans quickly surrounded Bastogne, vital crossroads. In an epic battle, frozen to the bone, Easy Company of the 101st Airborne, with remnants of the all-black 333rd infantry battalion, held Bastogne’s perimeter. Against odds, they defeated the German line.
Outnumbered 5-to-1, under artillery barrage, no winter clothes, minimal rations, medicine, or ammunition – brave Americans held, even without knowing Patton had just shocked Eisenhower, saying he could deliver the 3rd Army, rescue Bastogne, in two days – which he did.
Meanwhile to the north, Germany’s best armored units hit Eisenborn Ridge, shortest route to Antwerp. The 6th German Army, elite Waffen-SS, four Panzer divisions, five infantry divisions, should have won.
As at Bastogne, Americans were outnumbered 5-to-1, short on everything. Somehow, the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions stopped the German Army cold, inflicting casualties at a rate of 18 to one. While the 99th lost 465 men, Germany lost 4000 men, plus 60 tanks. At Lanzerath, a village Nazis had to clear, they lost a full day, when a single 18-man US intelligence platoon held off 500 paratroopers.
So, how do such things happen? What is it with Americans, backs to the wall, freedom in the balance? They refuse to give up, bow down, never say never, and then pull out stunning victories. Not always, but often. Not without loss, but always with courage. When surrender was demanded of General McAuliffe at Bastogne, his simple response – “Nuts!”
The answer is this: Whatever promotors of socialism, communism, fascism, lawlessness, or government dependence think, Americans are largely of one mind – their own. They are fiercely independent, to the point of “Don’t Tread on Me” indignance. They will not take garbage long, without responding.
They are ready to defend their freedoms, the Bill of Rights. This is not a wish, but fact. No political leader, party, ideology, or craven power grabber has ever persuaded Americans to put love of freedom away, in favor of anything.
That is why, even in a time of foreign threats, domestic turbulence, and political division, history teaches anyone aiming to rob Americans of freedom to think twice. At this anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, we are reminded of the tenacity and courage which precedes us.
Americans do not cede freedom to anyone. Asked to do so, enemies foreign and domestic should prepare for “Nuts!” That is the seminal lesson of Bastogne, Eisenborn, and The Bulge. Never underestimate America’s love of freedom – or our willingness to fight for it.