'The Greatest Victory'

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- The Battle of the Bulge, fought between Dec. 16, 1944, through Jan. 25, 1945, in Belgium and Luxembourg, became the bloodiest battle of World War II, resulting in more than 89,500 American casualties, including 19,000 killed. Yet the battle hastened the end of the war and a renewed chance for peace among formerly war-torn countries.

Seventy years later, many veterans, including the following 10 men, returned to the very land that claimed the lives of their comrades.

The following video, photos and stories are a glimpse into what each men recounted from what may be called "the greatest victory."




'The Greatest Victory'

"I got into the Army in 1942 after I got out of the University of Vermont. I spent a year up in the Arctic in Greenland, and then they sent me back to Artillery Officer School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I thought that was very nice, it sounded like a good career until I got over here for the Battle of the Bulge, and then I decided it might not have been such a smart idea after all. But I made it, and I'm glad to be here." 
-U.S. Army 1st Lt. Mike Levin, 7th Armored Division, 489th Armored Field Artillery Battalion

'The Greatest Victory'

"We saw mud, we saw snow, we saw artillery, we saw disaster on top of disaster, and that's what it was like. I don't want to see a kind of thing like that again." 
-U.S. Army Private First Class Bernard Mayrsohn, Cannon Company, 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Division

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"I was with the 2nd Infantry Division. We came to the Ardennes at the end of September 1944. We sat somewhere up in the woods for two-and-a-half months. We were dug in by our engineers and had very nice living conditions, for the infantry. I don't know how the Army determined me for infantry, but I was very pleased to be in it. I always felt the more firmer, the less terror. It was an interesting two-and-a-half months. It was like there was a truce with the Germans who were across the valley that said 'If you won't disturb us, we won't disturb you.' We were out of gas, literally, and our supply lines were so long, and that's why we were sitting there for two-and-a-half months. We were relieved by the 106th Division, so we got out just in time. However, our regiment was put down the back of the 99th Division, and that didn't work out too well. And we were committed in small groups, and the word came down on the 17th that the situation was untenable and to get out. Everybody got out except five of us, and I spent the last five-and-a-half months in a prison camp in Germany. The only advantage of that was that no one was shooting at me."
-U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Thompson, 2nd Infantry Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, Company A

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"We were outnumbered by five-to-one in manpower and armor. We had no air support because of the fog, and our supply lines were cut off. However, we withstood all of this for three days before we had to surrender because we were separated from the rest of the division--I was in the 422nd and 423rd, both regiments were annihilated and most of the veterans that were in both of these regiments were either killed or became prisoners of war or were hospitalized. Fortunately, I was able to get out. I was going the wrong direction at the wrong time at the wrong speed, which happened to be the right direction at the right speed at the right time. However, I did survive it all, and I'm here."
-U.S. Army Technician Fifth Grade J. David Bailey, 106th Infantry Division, 422nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Company F

'The Greatest Victory'

"I don't like to see tanks. They go 'RRRR-RRRR-RRRR,' and I'd think 'Here comes a shell.'"
-U.S. Army Private First Class Carl Wiggs, Sr., 6th Armored Division, 50th Armored Infantry Battalion, Company A

'The Greatest Victory'

"When the Battle of the Bulge started, I was with the 9th Armored Division, and we had our gun position at Haller, Luxembourg. We had six 105s mounted and M-7 tanks. When the German preparation started, I was located in a nice bunker, safe and sound. The only problem was that I got a call from my boss who told me to go out to get a shell-wrap, and we were going to put a stop to the foolishness of this German preparation. It's very difficult--you have to go out where the shells are falling and get a read on it and send it in. With the help of the other two batteries, we were able to get a good read on it. We stopped the German preparation in our sector. Later, they started up again, and we had to move on down. It just got too heavy, and we were losing too many tanks and men."
-Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Fred Gordon, 9th Armored Division, 3rd Field Artillery Battalion, C Battery

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"Back at Elsenborn Ridge... I had three machine guns set up on a company front, and with those three machine guns we might have killed 500 [enemy forces] that day and lost only two men in my company. But my captain was in the same foxhole with me, and he was calling down strikes by those 105 artillery pieces. The 105 was the only thing that would tear up those Panzer tanks. One day, in three attacks, they came at us with a total of 21 tanks. My captain called down artillery strikes, and we just totally destroyed 19 of them and sent two of them packing."
-U.S. Army Reserves Master Sgt. Clayton Christiansen, 99th Infantry Division, 324th Combat Engineer Battalion, Company A

'The Greatest Victory'

"I tried to get in when I was 17. I wanted to get in the Air Corps, because I was enjoying a lot of model airplane building and had a recommendation from a lot of people. But instead, I wound up getting drafted and went into the military police and took my training in Washington State. From there, we came across the waters of the North Atlantic, landed in England and from England, across to Normandy down to Brest and then up to the Battle of the Bulge, and that's where I ended up. I was there before, during and after as a member of the 8th Corps, 818th Military Police Company."
-U.S. Army Private First Class George J. Merz, 818th Military Police Company

'The Greatest Victory'

"I think if there is any feeling of better moments, it's when you're taken off the line and have a chance to have a hot meal, maybe have a bath and a change of clothes and, for a while, not being shot at. That's a fond memory, and something I certainly think about at times."
-Retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas Dillard, 551st Pararchute Infantry Battalion, Company A; 82nd Airborne Division, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment

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"I was drafted into the Army. I went in and took my physical, and they turned me down because I only weighed 117 pounds and I was five foot 10. And you had to weigh at least 126 pounds. It took me nine months, and then I finally got the draft board to accept me. I went in and took my physical, and they passed me that time. I went into the Army, and I took my basic training and then was shipped over to the east coast of the United States. I still only weighed 117 pounds, and they told me they were going to keep me in the United States because I wouldn't be able to survive the rigors of war. I said 'No, no, I gotta go. I gotta go!' And they sent me to a psychiatrist, and he asked me why I wanted to go. I said I wanted to do what I could for my country to protect them and stop those people from enslaving and killing people over there. He said 'Well, there's something wrong with you, because a lot of guys don't want to go over there and do what they can to get out of going over there.' So I told him 'No, I want to go over there!' And so I got on a ship, and they sent me over. Incidentally, I only weighed 124 pounds when I was discharged two years later."
-U.S. Army Private First Class Victor Cross, 87th Infantry Division, 345th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, Company B

Flickr Photosets

Before the Tour

Thirteen Heroes

DAY ONE 12/10/2014
-Wereth
-Baugnez 44

DAY TWO 12/11/2014
-La Gleize
-Stavelot
-Baraque de Fraiture

DAY THREE 12/12/2014
-Henri-Chapelle Cemetery
-La Roche en Ardennes

DAY FOUR 12/13/2014
-Bastogne Re-enactments

DAY FIVE 12/14/2014
-St. Vith
-Vielsalm
-Clervaux

DAY SIX 12/15/2014
-Lycee Classique
-National Museum of Military History 
-Patton Museum

DAY SEVEN 12/16/2014
-Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial
-Schumanns Eck

Video by Senior Airman Rusty Frank

Stories by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden

Photos by
-Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee
-Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
-Staff Sgt. Chad Warren
-Senior Airman Gustavo Castillo
-Senior Airman Rusty Frank
-Airman 1st Class Kyle Gese
-Airman 1st Class Tim Kim
-Airman 1st Class Luke Kitterman

Special Thanks to Patrick Hinchy, Doug Mitchell, Patrick Brion and the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge