Jan 2, 2005
A WWII veteran recalls one of the greatest U.S. military victories ever: the Battle of the Bulge.
Army Sgt. Paul Andert had fought in Africa, Sicily and Normandy, the invasion that many felt would break the German war machine and signal the end of World War II.
But, for Andert, there was still one more big one to go: The Battle of the Bulge.
When the killing was over from the Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, bloodbath, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill summed it up:
“This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”
Sixty years later, Andert of Tulsa remembers it as if it were yesterday.
As he sat with a reporter last week at Kelly’s Country Cooking, Andert, now 82, recalled the days to clear the way for an Allied victory in World War II.
In Hitler’s final effort to stop the Allied surge, which had started at Normandy and nearby places, Andert said, about 200,000 Germans and 600 Ger5 man tanks rambled through the mountainous Ardennes Forest in cold and under darkness to rout five outmanned U.S. Army divisions.
This, he said, created what became known as a “bulge” in the American lines in Belgium.
The Germans’ plan was to cross the Meuse River and swing north to capture the port of Antwerp in northern Belgium, and then offer the Allies terms of an armistice.
But, Andert said, his company in the 2nd Armored Division encountered the Germans’ 2nd Panther Division near Ciney, Belgium, on Christmas Eve 1944 “and stopped them right there.”
Although he wasn’t there, Andert said he also has memories of the Bulge battle for Bastogne, a Belgian town where the 101st Airborne Division was encircled. It was at Bastogne where Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, the commander of the 101st’s artillery regiment, told the Germans “nuts” when they asked the Americans to surrender.
Andert said the “nuts” answer filtered through the troops in other units down the line to where he was fighting. “When we heard it, we thought: ‘Great. That’s what they deserve.’ “
When he thinks of the war and the dead, Andert also thinks of a son who drowned in 1989, and he ties the two together. The former infantry platoon sergeant said it might sound like twisted logic, but “I always blame myself for him drowning because of all the people that I killed . . . that maybe I wouldn’t have had to, had I been a little more cautious . . . so I blame myself for him.”
He has written a book about his military experiences, “Unless You Have Been There.”
Andert won more than a dozen medals for his fighting in World War II, including the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart for being wounded twice, and the European Theater Medal with seven stars and two arrowheads.
He was wounded in the Normandy invasion and while fighting in Germany, Andert said.
His campaign stars are for landings in Africa and Sicily, northern France, central Europe, the Battle of the Bulge, Germany and landing on the beach in Normandy on D-Day plus one.
Ironically, Andert said, he could have sat out the Battle of the Bulge. He was hit in a leg while fighting in Germany on Nov. 16, 1944, one month before the major fight, and was sent to a replacement center in England to mend.
“I went AWOL (absent without leave) from the replacement center to get back to my men, and I arrived there around the 22nd of December and joined them in the Battle of the Bulge on Christmas Eve,” Andert said.
Andert, who dropped out of high school in the St. Louis area before his senior year, joined the Army at age 17.
By the time he was 21 in 1944, he was a platoon sergeant.
When Churchill and the supreme Allied commander, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, visited his base in England early in 1944, Andert was hoping that Eisenhower would speak to him.
“Well, he did,” he writes in his book.
“Kind of young to be a platoon sergeant, aren’t you?” Eisenhower asked.
“Yes, sir,” Andert replied.
“Lied about your age, didn’t you?” Eisenhower asked him.
“Yes, sir,” Andert answered.
Andert recalled that Eisenhower got a twinkle in his eye, asked a few more questions and walked away.
The Battle of the Bulge has been called the largest single ground battle in the history of the U.S. Army.
“I don’t know if it was the biggest, but it sure must have been the coldest,” Andert said. “It was reported to be the coldest winter in ages in Germany and Belgium.
“We had to keep moving because if you stopped you were in real danger of having frozen feet and things of that nature, of which many of them died.”
Tears from their eyes froze on their cheeks, he said.
His outfit had a saying to describe the situation, he said: “If you can feel your feet, you can fight.”
They did wage “The Frozen Fight,” which started in snow and smog before it cleared, and it was brutal.
According to reports:
More than 1 million men — 500,000 Germans, 600,000 Americans and 55,000 Britons — fought in the Battle of the Bulge.The Germans suffered 100,000 casualties — killed, wounded or captured.The U.S. casualties totaled 81,000, including 23,500 captured and 19,000 killed.The British suffered 1,400 British casualties, including 200 killed.
As the 60th anniversary of the biggest ground battle of World War II is being observed, Andert recalled that there was a shortage of medical supplies.
“There was always a shortage of something that we had to make do,” he said. “As far as medical supplies, what we had was our little first-aid kit with the bandage and a morphine syringe.
“If one of the guys got hit we would immediately give him a shot and wrap his wound up, and leave him for the medical corps to come up and pick him up.”
Andert was discharged in June 1945, one month after the end of the war in Europe.
“In many ways it was great to have been there,” he said of the battles at Normandy, Sicily, Africa and in the Battle of the Bulge. “I know how bad it was and how bad it could have been, and I felt like I was doing my best to defeat the enemy.”
War, he said, “is killing the other guy before he kills you. That is what war is all about. You are a bunch of killers, and you have to be.”
Andert said he once told a magazine reporter covering his World War II unit “to pick up a rifle and join us or get the hell out of here because you are not going to like what you see.”