tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN December 31, 2014 7:00pm-8:01pm EST
>> i found the safest place to be in any attack was in the assault wave. because we were upon the enemy before he knew we were coming. we escaped much of the small arms fire. in addition, we didn't get the retaliation from the artillery that the waves following us got. >> in this town as we did on all of our on theives, each company commander and separate platoon was ordered to take a certain position, followed the practice of writing a message on a fresh egg that they had taken their objective and what time and send this by messenger to the sergeant major at battalion headquarters. this is where we got fresh eggs as we crossed germany.
>> i knew right then that i was going to get it. half an hour later, i did. >> we had been fighting for ten weeks. we brought back a spirit of feeling of confidence not only in the staff but also in the regiments, battalions and companies which really put us in good stead for the future. >> these are the men who served in the 84th infantry division during the final months of world war ii. first committed to action on the siegfried line in november 1944, they were caught up in the bat many of the bulge and the conclusive engagements that followed. this is their story. hitler ordered a major counselor offensive.
in hitler ordered a as fog and sleet grounded all allied plane, infantry southwest into belgium recapturing the key road junctions. and surrounding the defenders. a major part of the german attack was turned against the town of marche, beyond which lay paris recently liberated and antwerp, the chief supply port.
the 84th infantry division had left the siegfried line and had taken up positions along the marche/hotton road. the allies were able to hold in the flanks and keep the enemy line from bulging further westward. >> i'm richard k. hawkings. i was a first lieutenant. we were spread over an extremely wide frontage. our rifle company actually covered close to a mile in width with fox holes, two men each, roughly 100 yards apatch. this is perhaps four to five
times the ushlg amount of frontage that a rifle company will cover in a defensive situation. there were several times when our forces were attacked by great numbers of tanks. in one instance, near the village of burden, approximately 200 enemy infantry and nine tiger tanks attacked us and actually overran our position. this was one of the few times in which it became necessary for me to call down artillery fire on our own position. enemy casualties during the battle of the bulge were much higher than ours due to the fact they were expending themselves against defensive position and this happens in any battle. however, they had over extended their supply lines. and many of the troops that we
captured had not had any food for some time. and i would say that their casualties outnumbered ours by at least three to one. >> this chateau is the property of a polish baron. it became a house of horrors as it was disfigured by hand to hand war. a member of the family recalls. >> translator: my name is elisebeth.
i spent many days in the castle. we witnessed the battle and i was with my father and a few people from the village. and some friends who had come here to find shelter. we spent five days and five nights in the cellar of the castle. first came the germans. then americans. generally, we could not tell who was in the castle. although, we did notice the americans wore rubber souls. they walked softly. the germans who wore metal tips
were very noisy. our food consisted of bread, some butter and ham. the real problem was to get water. we had to walk through corridors where germans and americans were often fighting in order to reach the faucet where we could get the water. sometimes we would meet americans, sometimes germans. >> a week after the offensive had begun, the weather suddenly cleared. allied air reconnaissance and bombardment was now possible. although allied air superiority was complete, the ground fighting remained intense throughout the bulge. the turning point came on december 26. >> i was a sergeant in the 333rd
infantry of the 84th division. i was leading the company column on the left-hand side of the road. the commander was leading on the right-hand side. as we broke over the hill, it became apparent that there were armored vehicles ahead of us. i knew we needed something to really go after vehicles of this type with and that the bazooka, being carried by another man back in the first platoon, did not come up as fast as i would have liked. i found the bazooka but found ammunition across the road. i loaded once and got up close
and fired. i was very gratified that the bazooka worked properly and i made a good hit. i had never fired one before. i made two or three trips back to the ammunition supply and went up and fired again. all of a sudden, somebody had spotted that we needed some help in that area, and some of our artillery fired. a shrapnel flew across my hand and arm. i heard it bounce off the be a bazooka. it didn't seem serious. one of the men near me also realized he had been hit and came over to see if he could give me aid. we succeeded in putting a tourniquet around my arm by using my belt.
then i started back down the road. after we got back a couple of platoons, action was such that i could stand up and walk down the road. and all i could think of was, merry christmas, boys. >> i'm john shaw. i fought as a buck private with the 86th infantry division during world war ii. it was cold. i remember trying to get a drink from my canteen, which was frozen solid. we started out through the woods crouching and moving forward. then someone yelled fire and shout. so we started firing and shouting. and the traces went through the woods. we moved on. in a hysterical way, getting more and more excited as we moved forward and heard more noise and were firing. we went perhaps 20 feet or 25
feet, and all of a sudden there was that terrible noise that a person hates to hear, the little pop of a flare. and it was a german flare. and it lit up the woods. there we were and there they were. the germans opened up with machine gunfire. i know i had a kind of sinking feeling that this was it. this was the first real fighting that our company had been in. where we were playing with the big boys and we knew that this was for keeps and all of us were terrified. these machine gun bullets were firing a few feet off the ground. then occasionally, as they would rake up and down the line of all three the woods, occasionally they would dip down. and then you would hear somebody
screaming from that section where they had dipped down. they sprayed us like if they had a garden hose. they sprayed and sprayed. then they -- more flares went up and the tanks opened up directly again with 88 fire. the man on my left was killed outright. the man on my right on the other side, who was equally close was wounded very seriously. his kneecap was blown off. the cries and sleeks of wounded went up then. and i turned to the man on my right and put a tourniquet on his leg. >> my name is major general bill sutton. i was a battalion commander in the 84th division in world war ii.
it was important for the 84th division to hold the ridge and stop the attack. only by the determination of the officers and men of the 84th division and the expert leadership of general bowling, the commander, were they able to do this. after the german advance which stopped in the last few daze of december, the germans were noticed to be digging in, which indicated they did not intend to continue attacking. >> the bulge would bulge no further. hitler had again misjudged the capacity of the american soldier. >> translator: my last rank in
the german army was that of a general of the cavalry. from the beginning of september 1944 until may 1945, i was command of the general staff of commander and chief west. hitler had a vast and extensive technical military knowledge, but he was a fanatic. and fanatics are known for their disability to keep a cool head. this is an absolute necessity for the strategist. at the sat time, hitler was not inclined to consider the enemy capable of fast action. he was and remained a military dilly tant. >> the cost to germany would be staggering. more than a quarter of a million
men dead, wounded or captured. slowly and painfully, the remnants retreated behind their shattered western defenses. it was the beginning of the end. by the 3rd of february, the 84th division had moved back to their positions on the siegfried line. their objective lay before them. the rhine and the elk. >> i'm lewis w. truman. during world war ii, i was a
colonel, chief of staff of the 84th infantry division and chief of staff for alexander r. bowling who was the commanding general of the 84th infantry division. >> the river crossing was one of the most thoroughly rehearsed crossings of any unit in the european theater. the original crossing date was to be 10 february. but it was postponed because the germans flooded the area. so we then had about two more weeks to work out details very thoroughly and to rehearse all the units for the overall operation. >> it's amazing that we got across the river considering the confusion that takes place during preparations for the attack.
if you can imagine it being pitch dark with a narrow road with huge trucks with the assault bridges to come later and a narrow strip available to move up troops through. when you consider the horrible noise of the artillery preparation which lasted for 45 minutes prior to our crossing, during which time commands can't be heard and it's very difficult to give any orders and expect them to be carried out.
>> the germans had constructed a rather wide band of wire -- barbed-wire and studded it with s mines, which bounced up in the air when triggered off six feet and exploded there making it impossible for anybody to avoid the fragment. this mine field and wire on the far side of the river made the river one of the biggest little rivers in the world as far as i was concerned. >> before that day was over, we had two full infantry regiments across. the germans were caught off balance. they did counter attack us. but they were unable to organize themselves fast enough. and after three days, our position on the other side of the river was secure. it was general bowling's impression at that time that the german soldier was no longer the
and they were all turning. >> we rolled across the northern part of germany on autobahns for the most part, great speeds and long convoys. this was exciting because we were covering so much ground compared to what it had been like on the siegfried line earlier. we rarely had to get out of the trucks except when we would run into a rash of firing and we would are to jump out and run for cover and after a while whatever difficulty would be taken care of and then we would roll on again. if combat can be described as fun, this was, because the weather was fine and we were rolling and we were going through part of the germany which had not been much shot up. and we saw civilians for the first time, german civilians.
and we were able to shout and do all the things soldiers like to do. >> allied moral was high. for each man of the 84th knew that the war was near its end. during the more frequent lulls in fighting, there was time for relaxing. time even for the humorous anecdote. >> army rations were pretty good. one day after too many servings of corned beef, we spotted a chicken. one of the men went out for it and was using an m-1 rifle. but he had armor piercing bullets in it. the soup we made that night, we had to sprain the bones through our teeth. >> i am fritz cramer. i was with the 84th division as a rather elderly soldier for my 35th to my 37th year. one respect i have have to admit, i probably was not a very
typical and normal soldier. i did like the army food. i wanted to get lots of food. i got it. i wanted to get simple food. i got it. very many of my playmates felt the army food was not good. i must say in this connection that i have found in life that the people who went traveling complained that the oysters are never fresh enough and the champagne never cold enough until the people who at home had nicer champagne nor oysters. >> there was one fellow that we had who was really sharp at gathering eggs. he knew where they all were. and he gathered a big armful of them one morning. it was early, about 5:00. he was just coming around the corner of a building.
a german officer came around the other way. and they stared at each other and then he took the eggs that he had in one hand and he threw them all at the german officer. the german ran around the building the other side and later on the german said to us in english, you know, you fellows are lousy soldiers. i have been trying to surrender all night long. now finally you throw eggs at me. he said i've been trying to surrender. >> there were other german solders who found surrender less of a problem. this experience was noted by a new member of the 84th division. lieutenant colonel alexander bowling, junior, then a rifle company commander and the son of the commanding general. he had recently escaped from a german prisoner of war camp. >> by the end of april, a company had reached the river. and this started a short but rather strange life for the men in the unit.
the germans had withdrawn across the river to the other side. and they permitted us, strangely enough, to enjoy a degree of freedom during the daylight hours. we actually could go out into the river and fish near our banks, of course. but at nighttime, any movement drew fire. at that particular time, there was a degree of mixed emotions among the men in the company. there was that particular feeling in which they wanted to go on and be the first unit in berlin, which had been the division objective since they landed in europe. and at the same time, the soldiers i don't believe wanted to have the honor of being the last man, the last casualty in the war.
i must admit it looked very wide at that time. after just a few days on the river, we awoke one morning and discovered much to the amazement of everybody, that the far bank was virtually covered with tens of thousands of german soldiers. desperately trying to get across to our side. it was quite apparent that there was no effort -- this wasn't an attack. as a result, there was no effort on our part to prevent this crossing. they were trying to get across on rafts that they had made during the night and on boats, on inner tubes. any way they could get across, and they were successful. this, of course, was the day when our battalion -- i guess the division captured the largest number of prisoners. the war wasn't over, but the germans had decided that they
were going to surrender to us rather than to the russians. one of the lasting memories for me of this last action was when general bowling and i crossed the swift river to meet the oncoming russians. this was on the 26th of april. on the far bank of the river, were at least 10,000 german soldiers who had not yet been taken prisoner. some were wounded, others were sick and all were thoroughly demoralized. the very sight of so many men trapped there on the other side of the river symbolized for me the total collapse of the german army and the absolute conclusion of hostilities. >> when we encountered the russians on the opposite bank, they appeared to be a rather notally, disorganized crew with
all kinds of transportation, including horse-drawn wagons, ambulances, motorcycles, bicycles and even a few riding bare-back horses. they were a very friendly, boisterous lot who seemed extremely happy to meet up with the americans and finally realize that the war was at an end. >> for those who met on that april day in 1945, the war had reached its inevitable conclusion. on may 7, the end would be made official by the formal surrender of all german forces to the allies. the third riekt lay in rubble. there was nothing left to fight with. nothing left to fight for. for the men of the 84th infantry division, there was the
knowledge that they had accomplished every mission. they had been tried by fire and they had won. you have been watching a special presentation of our reel america series. watch as the films take you on a journey through the 20th century. that's reel america every sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span3. we would like to tell you about some of our other programs.
join us every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern for a special look at the presidency. learn from leading historians about presidents and first ladies, their policies and legacies and hear directly from our chief executives through historic speeches. that's every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern here on american history tv. we would like to hear from you. follow us on twitter, connect on facebook where you can leave comments and check out our upcoming programs at our website. each week american history tv's reel america brings you archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. the battle of the bulge began on december 16, 1944 in belgium and france. next, a u.s. army the big picture episode from 1965
telling the story of the desperate fight around the small town from the perspective of men from both sides who were there, including lieutenant will rogers, junior. this documentary is narrated by actor robert taylor. >> on the 18th of december, 1944, the conflict that would become the battle of the bulge was two days old. it had started with a huge german counter offensive planned with a strict timetable. by the 18th, two armies should have reached the river driving toward their objective antwerp. instead, thousands of hitler's finest troops were fighting to
take a small town in belgium. a junction of roads and railways, the key to success for the counter offensive was the timetable. a key to the timetable was st. vith. at down on the 16th, the german assault had achieved its first object, surprise. it overwhelmed the inexperienced troops in the forest where some, like colonel oliver patent, were still trying to fight back to friendly lines on the 18th. >> the last attack down the road.
in that attack, i was hit for the second time that day. i was hit through both legs and couldn't walk. i remember the battalion commander came through and told us that the battalion had to pum pull out. they were going to leave us. there were four or five of us. they would leave us with a medic. >> to the south, the german attack had split the 28th division, cut off the 112th infantry. >> that afternoon, i received orders from division which was then at bastion to fall back and fight stiff delaying action direction bastion. i know that this was impossible.
>> the german attack in this sector was made by troops of the 5th panzer army. the capture with the roads and rail ways was vital to the advance. they had been expected to take st. vith with little resistance. on the 18th their commander came up himself to see what was delaying the advance. >> translator: i suspected the presence of scattered though very courageous forces which had come here to assist the fighting troops. i was under the impression that up to the 17th and 18th, the small, scattered battle troops were not under centralized command. however, on the eve of the 18th before night fall it became obvious that new enemy forces were approaching. >> the general's surmise was
correct. but american intelligence of the size of the german attack was still so limited that some units of the 9th and 7th armor divisions strung out to extend the american defenses from the original roadblock. to a long horseshoe line were still unaware that a little crossroads could be vital. there most troops had already withdrawn when lieutenant will rogers junior woke on the morning of the 18th to word that a german tank was in the street below. >> so we raced around my jeep to get the bazooka. the rest was sheer laurel and hardy. we couldn't get the strap off. we fought and bot it unstrapped
and we got it tangled in in netting. i was so excited that when i grabbed for the rockets, i took them out and they fell down into the mud. finally we got everything set. went down to the edge of this long hedge and here was a german tank very thankfully waiting just right there waiting for us. we got the bazooka set, started to fire at the tank. nothing happened. we had forgot to wire the terminals properly. we got the terminals wired. we got off one shot, big explosion, but we couldn't see any result. however, the german officer in the tank closed down the tourette and backed down out of this little town. >> significance of any threat to the defensive horseshoe was clear to the man who was building it, commander general robert hasbrook. >> early on the 18th, i received
bad news. the crossroads town, which lay to the left rear of general clark, had been captured by the germans. since there was a road leading directly to the rear, it was imperative to be recaptured at once. i ordered cca, my reserve, proceed immediately and recapture poteau. >> the northern front was being held by the 7th armored division combat command b under general bruce c. clark. >> it became apparent that a command post in the town of st. vith was too far forward. in the afternoon, i sent my aide back around to find a place where we could move and move into a room where there were tables and chairs, a place for messengers and officers to park, a room that could be blacked out to use it at night. the 19th of december was
characterized by strong attacks by the germans all around the defensive horseshoe. most of these attacks were about one company in size and were apparently looking for a soft spot. >> on the southern front of the horseshoe, combat command b found itself up against a railroad cut which could not be crossed. the commander fought side by side with general clark throughout the rest of the battle. >> in order that general clark, on my left, would know what i was doing, i conferred with him and told him of the situation and that i intended to withdraw through st. vith and take up the new line on his right after dark on the night of the 19th.
>> this very difficult operation was carried out in darkness and was very successful. we were most happy that that had occurred some two nights later when the attack took place which drove us out of the forward end of the horseshoe and took st. vith. >> on the morning of the 20th, we felt lonely. we had enemy on all sides and on the rear. we were out of touch with the 8th corps, which i learned had been forced to retreat. i decided to send a staff officer of mine to try and locate first army headquarters and apprise them of our situation and ask for help. >> the defenses east of st. vith still held. there colonel, then major don boyar was in the point of the horseshoe. >> communications were sparse. but they were sufficient to pass requests for artillery fires and exchange the necessary coordination for the attacks of the various battalions of the division as we received attacks from the germans and kicked them out with counter attacks after
counter attacks. >> i can't recall too many details at that time of specific attacks, because it seems that they went on around the clock. the battlefield is an extremely lonesome place. you don't see much. you hear things, tanks blowing up, artillery, small rounds and things like that. >> for a private like bill, the battlefield was everywhere. >> minute by minute things changed. i only know what it is to be in just that little hole. maybe a squad or two around us. we know that little bit of territory that we have. >> you were constantly getting
rumors. i remember one time we heard that the brightest spot on the western front was st. vith. many men believed the rumors that different units had pulled out and in turn were panicked. i remember reading one of jim thurber's stories entitled "the day the dam broke." it seemed apropos to the situation that i asked every member of my staff to read that book and take it to heart. >> continued attacks went on during the day on the combat command b. we were told we had prisoners of war in the encloser. >> the defensive horseshoe was now a good 25 miles long, reinforced by colonel nelson's regiment that had lost touch
with its division. the line was being pounded from a horseshoe into a fortified goose egg. lieutenant patent knew why, he was riding wounded on the hood of a jeep to a german aid station. >> there were two things going on on the road that even a lieutenant as green as i was could add up and make sense of. first was the number of troops moving west along that road, infantry on either side of the road. the other was the number of vehicles coming down, tanks, trucks, cars. the biggest tanks had seen in my life. every time they would go by i would look at it and the lieutenant would grin.
as i occupied my positions here on the east, on the night of the 20th, 21st, snow flurries in the air, all of us with frostbite, some with frozen fingers and legs, to our front, to our right flank, to the left flank, all night long we heard the noise of trucks and the noise of tanks moving into position. >> at last the delayed coordinated german attack on st. vith fell. the general's search for first army headquarters and his efforts to convince them he was facing more than a local german attack had been successful. >> on the morning of the 21st, we were overjoyed to find the 82nd airborne had arrived in our vicinity and had made a tenuous contact with us near a bridge. this was an eventful day in our sector. they were attacked by a full german corps. >> by noon, heavy concentrations
of artillery started breaking on the woods in which my forces were located. it sounded like a huge spring being compressed and suddenly cut loose. it was a horrible din that came through the air among the trees. i remember one unit commander who i had who several times reported to me that he had to be relieved or had to have reinforcements that he could only hold maybe another hour or sometime three hours or sometimes eight hours. i remember telling him very definitely that -- saying, how do you know how long you can hold? hold there as long as you have the ability to fire back. >> time meant nothing. between 1,200 and 1,300 on the
21st until 2300 hours or 11:00 that night, i saw my own immediate force which had been in the neighborhood of 680 men go to less than 200. >> the eastern point in the horseshoe defending st. vith was an island defending only itself. there colonel thomas j. riggs held the road under his original orders. >> by that evening, the germans were building up their intensity and were starting to break through on both of our flanks. by about midnight, we had lost communication on both flanks with the two units. so we knew we were being completely isolated. >> knowing that st. vith was
filled with german troops coming in from the east, the north and the south. off to the right until we got in the vicinity of the road that led to prone and we broke into five and eight-man groups. i gave them a come pass baring and told them to work their way to the west to rejoin general clark, combat command b where we might continue the fight. by night fall, i and the four men in my group were prisoners of the germans. and i realized that in the furious fight in the day before that i had been wounded. and for me, the world had come to an end at that point. >> we could then, in the dawn's light, see that all of the roads
leading into st. vith were full of german troops concentrating on and going through st. vith. we could not counter attack. i attempted at that time to split them up into patrols so they could attempt to work their way back to the friendly line, the u.s. lines. we started two of these patrols out and watched both of them captured. shortly thereafter, i was captured with the remainder of the group. >> on the afternoon of 21st december, general clark informed me that the attack on st. vith was so heavy, they would be forced out of that position at evening. he said he would retreat to the west. i agreed to conform with his movement. >> the delay we have suffered in my schedule left its mark on the army in the central corps as well as in the southern sector. until december 22nd, therefore,
my efforts were concentrated on the coordination of the attack on st. vith, in other words, the cooperation of all arms, infran try, storm guns, artillery, tanks in a final attempt to take st. vith. >> as i remember the 22nd of december, i remember it as a day of mud and rain and considerable confusion. as you pressed your tank in the morning of the 22nd against our new defensive line, our forces were driven back. the same time, pressure from the north and the south was applied against our flanks. so as a result, by the night of the 22nd, our forces banked pretty much in a semi-circle.
>> as i remember the 22nd of december, i remember it as a day i remember it as a day of lots of rain. the morning of the 22nd against our new defensive line in the combat area our forces were driven back and at the same time, pressure from the north and south was applied against our franks. by the night of the 22nd our forces were in a semicircle around the town. >> it should be pointed out that when the men were disbursed on the ground, they were like fingers of a hand. and as they withdrew, as i later pointed tout them, they gained strength by coming back as the
fipgers would in forming a first. this gave them strength and coordination. >> from there, general clark immediately sought an escape route to the the west, a dirt road through the woods. although the battle of the bulge would last for another month, its turning point had been reached. the defensive places like st. vith had given the allied armies time. next morning the skies were clear. the ground which had been a sea of slush and mud and would have mired the withdrawal of 23,000 men and thousands of vehicles was frozen hard. >> during the early morning hours of the 23rd, both ccb of the 7th armored and ccb of the 9th armored were engaged in the enemy.
it was difficult for them to disengage. but during the day, the 82nd airborne was attacked from the south. i sent a message to general telling them it was imperative they start their withdrawal, if they did not start now, they would be withdrawing into a bunch of germans instead of into the ranks of the 82nd airborne division. >> there was no time to issue formal orders or orders under code, so i instructed that the radio to all units under my command be opened up and that the orders would be given in the clear. general hasbrouck told me i would have to withdrawal across the bridge by noon or else the bridge would have to be blown because of the pressure of the german army coming in from his flanks. and i directed that the withdrawal would start immediately. and the plan would be that they
would withdraw down the dirt wood road on a first come, first served basis. this required that i personally direct traffic at the crossroads at komanster. so i started the battle as the military police and i ended the battle as the military police. but of course, that was necessary. >> i met bruce clark in the town where he was directing traffic at the time, trying to ease the confusion of the milling vehicles passing through. we went into position around the town. >> withdrawal started at 7 a.m. and went on constantly throughout that day. it went very smoothly, the covering forces operated efficiently, and only one unit had trouble. that was task force jones on the southern flank, the last to withdraw. >> so the american column passed through these little towns and
as they did, they became part of task force jones, which was the rear guard of the american unit coming out of st. vith. and my little platoon became part of the rear of the rear guard of the last unit out of st. vith. >> as we fell back onto the road i found it choked with vehicles from a task force of the 7th armored division. we attempted to work our way through these vehicles to find out what the trouble was and we found that there was a burning tank and that the germans had apparently come around behind us with an anti-tank gun. >> in the meanwhile, someone had discovered a side rope, up a sort of a side canyon that went up this high mountain beside this river. just then, a beautiful thing happened. a full bright moon came up over the hills. >> we went up this side road and
then across country. and then one place we had to detail some of the tanks of the 7th armored division to pull the wheeled vehicles over this -- over a highland swamp. and about 2:00 in the morning, we finally wound up behind the 82nd airborne lines. >> mile after mile, and we came out through the snow, this brilliant, beautiful, moonlit night, and then we saw another wonderful sight, about every 100 feet or so, we saw a man in a white parka standing there, and that was the 82nd airborne. and we came out through the 82nd airborne division, out of the baflgts bulge, out of st. vith. and that was task force jones, we were the tail end of the rear guard of the 7th armored division. >> i climbed up the slope in there where i was greeted by general hasbrouck, drawn, tired, out on his feet, but still the
type of commander standing there with his troops to the very last minute. threw his arms around me and said, boylan, thank god you got them out. >> ask and toward the end i figured that i got practically no sleep for the last 72 hours before reporting to general hasbrouck behind the 82nd air borne lines. i wished him a merry christmas. it was the day before but i wished him a merry christmas.i wished him a merry christmas. it was the day before but i wished him a merry christmas. >> but to us, it was just a big step to get home. >> i was and still am proud of the men of the 106th infantry division with whom i went through such a dreadful bath of blood during this action. i was so proud, as a matter of fact, that i returned to that unit after escaping from prisoner of war camp some 28 days later. >> translator: it is the war of the small men, the outpost commanders, the section
commanders, the company commanders. those were the decisive people here who were responsible for success or failure, victory or defeat. we depended upon their courage. they could not afford to get confused and had to act according to their own decisions until the higher command was again in a position to take over. i believe i can say, and i have the right to make this judgment, that the germans did this admirably well. at the same time, however, i am also convinced this was the case with the american forces who, after all, succeeded in upsetting the entire time schedule, not only of the attacking unit in st. vith but also the 5th and 6th panzer armies. that is a fact which cannot be denied. >> just one month later, in january, you can imagine how we felt. the satisfaction of regaining what we had been forced to lose. there was snow on the ground.
a small road leading down to the right, a few farmhouses and trees, and st. vith itself. no moon, no noise, no dogs, no smoke, lifeless. flattened. >> such is the rush of history, the st. vith belgium is almost lost in it now, but not in the memories of those who made history there that winter or those who must take life up again when history is passed. >> translator: and then we came back. one by one. the first to return were my father and my elder brothers. but when we came back things weren't over yet, by far. everything was destroyed here, but it wasn't too bad. somehow, children don't care too much for material values but the destroyed tanks were a horror.
everywhere, sometimes there were still burned bodies inside. soldiers, germans, americans. and when we were playing sometimes, or ventured into the woods, which was very dangerous, when we tried to jump across the trench or something, suddenly we saw we were startled with horror because there was a body lying in there. but gradually, things came back to normal. accidents were less frequent and in time, they were forgotten. and then it went on like that, and in spite of everything we grew up and became strong. but still, something has remained. sometimes when one talks about it, it comes back to one's memory, how awful it is. >> one of the things that's always bothered me most about
the battle of st. vith is a number of heroic actions went unrecognized and unrewarded. of course, there were a good many silver stars and bronze stars awarded because i delegated that authority to my commanders and they carried them in their pockets and were authorized to put them on the man at the time. but the higher decorations which many deserved were not forthcoming because the sworn statements of witnesses were hard to get in the heat of battle. afterwards, the witnesses were gone, in some cases, and in others, the act was forgotten only too soon. you've been watching c-span's american history tv. we want to hear from you. follow us on twitter
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lectures in history delving into america's past. and reel america, featuring archival government and educational films from the 1930s through '70s. c-span3, created by the cable tv industry and funded by your local cable or satellite provider. during this holiday season we're showing you american history programs. today we're focusing on our series "reel america." next, the first of two profiles of american film directors in the second world war. we'll start with a look at frank crapra's work then focus on george stevens. then director john ford and his movie "the battle of midway." each week, american history tv's "reel america" brings you archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. in the first of a five-part look at hollywood directors who made