Voices of the Battle of the Bulge: 'I knew what [Nuts!] meant to me'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the ninth installment of a 10-part series about asking the same five questions to 10 World War II veterans who served during the Battle of the Bulge Dec. 16, 1944, through Jan. 25, 1945. The veterans returned to Europe for 70th anniversary observances of the battle in Belgium and Luxembourg, Dec. 9-18, 2014. 


George J. Merz
818th Military Police Company

Enlisting in the Army in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, May 12, 1943, Merz was born Feb. 23, 1925. He served with the 818th Military Police Company, most famous as the MP unit tasked with investigating the tragic auto accident that claimed the life of Gen. George Patton in December 1945. Merz set out for Europe from Boston harbor on Feb. 25, 1944. Landing in Normandy during the D-Day invasion, his campaign advanced through Brittany and the Brest Peninsula, eventually marching through Paris on the way to Bastogne. Finishing the war in Zullenroda, Germany, he was discharged Jan. 25, 1946. His decorations include a European campaign ribbon with five stars and Bronze Star. A lifelong resident of Louisville, he retired after a 40-year career in the aluminum industry with Reynolds Metals and the Aluminum Company of America.

Where were you during the Battle of the Bulge?

The little town of Gouvy, Belgium, is where I had a good experience there because of the fact that before the Bulge ever started, I was stationed there - three of us: a sergeant, a jeep driver and myself, and we were taking care of the traffic that come in and out of Gouvy. When we saw the Germans, we had orders that if anything happened that we had to evacuate, that we were to come to Bastogne. We already got word, and when we saw the Germans unloading their tanks from the rail cars down by below where we were at - in other words, from the German side of the rail - we said 'It's time to get out of here.' So, the sergeant asked me 'Go over to the commander at the ration depot to see if he's got the rear guard in place.'

So I did, and he told me had the rear guard in place. I went and told me sergeant, and he said 'Well, let's get out of here! We've gotta go! So that's when we hopped in the jeep - we couldn't get or baggage or nothing. We had to leave right there and then because we had orders to go back to Bastogne. We went back to Bastogne, and from there, we went on into Neufchateau, Belgium, from Bastogne because when we got to Bastogne, our headquarters had orders to move out of there and go back to Neufchateau. Neufchateau was 8th Corps headquarters. So then after that, as the Bulge progressed, the MPs moved back into Bastogne to direct the traffic that was moving in and out of Bastogne. And this is where I got my Bronze Star. The shelling went on into Bastogne. And while we were on duty, the Germans were shelling the town. I was on duty, and my sergeant came up to me and asked me 'My God, Merz, where you been?' because they were down in the basement when they heard all this booming and banging going on.  He said 'Where have you been?' I said 'Well, I've been up here directing these tanks, and they're all buttoned up, and they couldn't see hardly where they were going. They just had their peer-scopes on. I said 'I couldn't leave my post.'

[On being asked what Gen. McAuliffe meant by replying 'NUTS!' to the Germans' terms of surrender.] Hell -- I knew what ['Nuts!'] meant to me. It meant NUTS! It meant 'The hell with this, I'm not doing this!' 'Niesse!' might have been a word that the Germans might have known or known what it was - 'Nuts' or 'The hell with you' or call him something else. But that was the terminology used there.

'The Greatest Victory'

How does it feel to be back 70 years later?

I find it inspiring. If I had to do it over, I'd love to have come more often, but finances probably don't allow you to do it too much. So I'm just proud to be here, at least for the 70th anniversary of this. I may never get to the 75th, and I think that's why they had the 70th so big and so popular, and I'm just tickled that what we had here was here for the representatives for the Battle of the Bulge. I'm very blessed that I had four of my family members here with me, so that made five all together.

I've enjoyed meeting and conversing with people here. I've made a lot of friends just even in this short time--some of the people who I've met and some I've met on this tour that we're doing. I've met people I'd never knew, but I feel friendship with them. It's just a friendship thing. It's really inspiring, in a way. I'm just tickled I could do it.

What was the proudest moment of your military career?

When I got that Bronze Star. It made me feel good, because I had some relatives who fought in World War I, and I don't remember any of them getting a citation of any kind. I wasn't a military person, just the fact that it came to me when I felt like the country was under siege or the necessity to have people come into the service. I never intended to sign up and stay for life or anything like that or put a career in it. But I figured when I did my duty and got done with this war, which was here in Europe, I said 'That's it. I'm done.' So I signed up and went out. I had the extra points. Married people could get out, because they had five extra points. My Bronze Star got me five extra points to move on and go home. So that's how come I got home.

'The Greatest Victory'

What got you through some of the toughest of times?

A lot of the moving and having to pickup-and-go, pickup-and-go and the fact that you never knew where you were going to be. As MPs, we were on 24/7 - in other words, we could be called out any time at any day of the month or year or whatever. So we were on duty 24/7. We had the helmet with the 'MP' on it. We had the [armband] with 'MP' on it. You were MPs from the day you started to the day you got out.

[On being surrounded in Bastogne] When I was in this little town of Gouvy, Belgium, I heard they had the Malmedy massacre [the killing of 84 U.S. prisoners of war] - that put the fear of God in us, because we said 'If these guys are not playing according to the rulebook, we're in trouble.' A lot of guys were looking at this like 'Well, if they're not taking prisoners, we're not taking them. As MPs, we were taught not to use the billy club--that was a 'no-no.' In the old time, we used to use the billy club, bang them on the head, knock them out and drag them in.  We were taught to use diplomacy. And I thought, 'Man, what's diplomacy going to do when somebody's shooting at you?' It puts the fear of God in you. Actually, that was one of the most terrible times in our life, I guess, in that situation. I mean, think about it: you got that threat, you're 19 years old - still got a whole life ahead of you, and I never dreamed that I'd last this long. But here I am: 89 years old, ready to spend my 90th birthday, February [2015.] I'm tickled to death that I'm here.

What advice do you have for the men and women in uniform today?

If they're in a country--whatever country they're in - they need to at least try to learn some of the language and learn how to ask for this or that. First thing to know, you'll learn a little bit about it, and then you'll learn enough where you'll be able to communicate with them. It's so helpful. It was for me to be able to communicate with the people, because without communications everything is more or less lost if you don't stay with it. You've got to do that, regardless of where you're at.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Merz's biography provided by the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge
Video by Senior Airman Rusty Frank
Photos by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden and Senior Airman Rusty Frank