Voices of the Battle of the Bulge: 'We lost a lot of very good veterans'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the tenth 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. 


Douglas Dillard
551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, Company A; 82nd Airborne Division, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Dillard was born in 1925 in Atlanta. Following in his father's footsteps, who served in North Africa early in the war, he joined the Army as a 16-year-old Airborne volunteer on July 3, 1942. His first deployment was to the Caribbean, in preparation for a possible assault on the island of Martinique, rumored as a potential base for German U-boats. In May 1944, after a return to the states for additional training, the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was shipped to North Africa, Sicily and Italy in preparation for the Operation Dragoon landings on the Mediterranean coast of France. Serving as a radio operator, then-Sergeant Dillard followed his unit into the Bulge Dec. 21, 1944, attached to the 30th Infantry Division in support of their defense around Francorchamps and Stavelot. On Christmas Day, they shifted to the 82nd Airborne, supporting the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment with reconnaissance behind enemy lines. Experiencing heavy losses into 1945, the 551st eventually folded into the 508th.

At war's end in May 1945, the Regiment moved to Frankfurt to guard Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's headquarters. Dillard earned the Bronze Star and later chose a career in military intelligence, serving in Korea and Vietnam. Eventually becoming Chief of U.S. Army Military Intelligence and earning a place in their Hall of Fame, he retired as a colonel in 1977. Successfully raising four daughters in the vicinity of his longtime residence in Bowie, Maryland, Dillard served as president of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge from 2012-2014.

Where were you during the Battle of the Bulge?

I was with 82nd Airborne Division up north. We were doing the heavy lifting up north. The 101st Airborne Division, they were down in their villas in Bastogne... just kidding! It's a friendly rivalry between the two divisions!

We were up in the northern shoulder and kind of partnered with the 30th Infantry Division and hemmed up [German field officer] Joachim Peiper in La Gleize, Belgium. He really stopped that northern plunge led by Joachim Peiper. In the 82nd, we lost a lot of very good veterans from Sicily and Italy and Normandy and Holland in the Bulge.

[On asked his reaction to the start of the battle] My battalion was in Italy, and we jumped into Southern France. When the campaign ended there, we came by train up to Northern France. We had just settled into a French fort near Sissonne and were alerted at two o'clock in the morning to go wherever--because no one knew where the German forces were.  So that's the way it all started. We were totally shocked that this had happened. We were sitting in open trunks, and it was a day like today: sleeting and snowing. We were on our way up to the front. I can remember that day we were going up, and I could see tanks and trucks and people going south. We were going north, and I thought 'What's wrong with this picture? The front line must be up there, and why are all these people going that way?'

The 82nd was committed very quickly and did a really fine job. It took a lot of losses, and they, on the south side, fought Joachim Peiper's outfit to a standstill at Stoumont, Belgium, which was, I think, the furthest point. Pfeiffer was defeated there and had to pull back into La Gleize. The [504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, H Company] fought a great battle there that night and stopped him.

[When the 3rd Army broke through] That was great news. Everyone was just delighted to hear about General Patton--he was the rage then, and still is. I think in many of the Soldier's minds, he was really an outstanding commander. He was a hard guy, and he had his weaknesses like we all have. But he got the job done.

How does it feel to be back 70 years later?

It's been super. Really great, even the weather adds a little nostalgia to the trip.

It's been five years since I was back. I came many years before. I have a lot of friends--Belgian friends I've made over the years. I was delighted that they showed up today. I hadn't seen them since I was last here. It was 2008, and my company made a bayonet attack at Dairomont, Belgium, on the 4th of January in 1945. And the city of Vielsalm, Belgium, dedicated a monument to my company. And that's the last visit I had made over here until this trip. So it's really great to be able to make the trip.

We had an outstanding audience with [Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg.] He met everyone initially, then he came back, sat down at a stool in front of each one of us and had a two-, three-, four- or five-minute personal discussion. It was just simply great. He's a very interesting person--he was interested in our visit. It was outstanding.

They've not forgotten what happened during World War II. My unit didn't serve here in Luxembourg - we were up north, but it's the same memory. We share our losses.

This has been a great trip, and everyone has been so nice to us. We really appreciate it.

'The Greatest Victory'

What was the proudest moment of your military career?

I came home one day, and my wife told my little daughter, 'Your father is going to be promoted to full colonel.' And my youngest daughter looked at me and said, 'Well, what are you now: a half colonel?' And that sort of brought me down to earth. I'm very proud to have started during World War II as a private and retired as a colonel. I can say it was a proud moment for me.

What got you through some of the toughest of times?

You always think it's not going to happen to you. It's the other guy who's going to get hit. I was very lucky. I had good health, and I think it's just also lucky, because I had a lot of my friends who were either killed or wounded right around me. And somehow, I wasn't. So, I'm thankful for that.

'The Greatest Victory'

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

They should, as the Army says, do the best that you can. And make up your mind that, if it's going to be a career, you do the very best that you can, and you can succeed. Anything less than that is just not going to work. You got to do your best all of the time. Be loyal, and I think be willing not to do things that are illegal or immoral. If you're against an order, you tell your commander that's something against your beliefs. If you're given an order to do it, unless it's something totally immoral, then you don't do it. You just have to be that way, I think. Somehow, I think we've lost some of that in the last few years.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Dillard'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