Blog posts : "christmas 1944"
This has become a Christmas tradition for me and some of you have seen this post before, but it is that time of year when I start thinking about the importance of friends and family and why I should be thankful for the country I live in. It is also the time when I think abou…
This has become a Christmas tradition for me and some of you have seen this post before, but it is that time of year when I start thinking about the importance of friends and family and why I should be thankful for the country I live in. It is also the time when I think about those fellow Americans who have stepped forward in the past and the present to place their lives on the line so that the rest of us can celebrate this holy season in freedom and peace. This will be the fifth Christmas since 9/11 that my oldest son, U.S. Army Major Sean Connelly, has spent away from home and in harm’s way.
However, the true story below is not about Sean and the fighting Americans of today, but about Sean’ grandfather and another Christmas long ago. I wrote it many years ago and it has been reprinted and put on websites around the world. I offer it once again to honor our heroes of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Come to think of it, this story is really about all of them because it epitomizes who and what they are.
The frigid night air cut through the Lieutenant’s army issue coat as the stopped in the knee deep snow to survey the perimeter. A heavy snow continued to fall on this Christmas Eve 1944, but it was not a silent night. The flashes of artillery lit the sky and generated a rumble like distant thunder as the young officer finished his tour of the unit’s outposts. He was an officer in Company B, 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion, the men who fired the big 4.2 mortars which were so critical to the effort of the infantry to advance. They were someplace in Belgium, he really had no clue where, and for the first time in a while the battalion was together again. All four companies had been brought in to help stop the German breakthrough. They didn’t know it, but the 87th was about to be thrown right into the heart of the Battle of the Bulge.
As the Lieutenant finished his rounds he wearily dragged himself into the monastery where the command had taken refuge for the night. The warmth that enveloped him as he entered the large community room was certainly welcomed. He glanced around and saw his comrades sprawled in every available space. They were bedraggled and exhausted after 201 days of almost continuous combat, and by the looks on their faces you could tell that it was only going to get worse. Despite the thickness of the monastery walls, a new sound intruded, the quick crack of tank gunfire.
Everyone knew what that meant, American tankers were making a last ditch stand against the German armored columns in the area. They were outnumbered and outgunned and their Sherman tanks stood no chance against the awesome German Tiger tanks, but they fought anyway. When the battle ended, and it would before dawn, then the 87th became part of the last American line of defense. The war hung in the balance, and so did the lives of everyone in the ancient house of God.
The Lieutenant found a place to sit against one wall and sank down in exhaustion, gratefully accepting the wine, bread and cheese being offered by the monks. In the corner of the room, a soldier fiddled with the dial of a radio, finally picking up the armed forces station. Christmas carols filled the room, but only added to the loneliness. Then as, the sound of the tank battle increased in intensity, a new song started on the radio, Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas."
For the Lieutenant the song immediately invoked memories of the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas on the farm in Mason City, Iowa and of how far away he was from those he loved. He could not help himself, the tears began to flow and embarrassed, he glanced around the room to see if anyone had noticed. His eyes fell first on the Company Commander, Captain J.J. Marshall, one of the toughest men the Lieutenant had ever known. The Captain sat ramrod straight, unashamed, as tears streamed down his stubbly cheeks. It was universal that night, strong men, the bravest of the brave, cried over a Christmas carol, and over the homes many would never see again.
As dawn broke the next morning, Christmas Day, the battalion was again split up with Company B assigned to take up mortar positions in support of what was left of the 289th infantry, 75th Division, and defend a Belgium village called Sadzot, a key location in the thin American defense line. For three days they fired their mortars in support of the hastily assembled defense units, and then disaster struck. Early in the predawn hours of Dec. 28th enemy elements of the 12 SS Panzer Division, the infamous Hitler Jugend, broke through the infantry lines and overran the mortar position.
They hastily assembled all of the men they could, and the mortarmen fought a delaying action, fighting hand to hand and house to house against overwhelming numbers. As the fighting retreat continued, they men of company B were joined by remaining elements of the 509th Parachute Battalion which had formed a new defensive position north of the village. There they held until reinforced and then joined a counterattack which retook the village, and recaptured six of their nine mortars and most of their vehicles.
It was later learned that this makeshift force of Americans had successfully stopped a major attack by German troops designed to capture a major highway intersection which would have broken the American line. No one has ever been able to tell me how they won. History recorded it as a classic situation where the attacking enemy held all of the advantages, yet was stopped by the cold determination of a hand full of defenders on the verge of physical and mental collapse. Somehow, they emerged victorious, with Company B reporting almost half of its men killed, wounded, or missing.
For his actions during the defense of Sadzot the Lieutenant and the other men of the company received both the French and Belgium Croix de Guerre medals. I know the story of that lonely Christmas Eve and the ensuing days from my Father’s diary. He was the young Lieutenant, Roy E. Connelly, Co. B. 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion. He would read that story to us on Christmas Eve every year until his death in 1987, and then I took over the job with my children.
He never read it without crying over the friends he lost during that Christmas season of 1944, and to this day, I can not read it or even write about it without the same reaction. What was done during that six day period by the men of Co. B and the other companies of the 87th, who also held the line, surpasses the ability of most of us to comprehend. They fought for each other, and they fought for us. We must never forget.
FOR MY DAD, AND THE MEN OF THE 87TH
Michael Connelly: Author of “The Mortarmen”
It is the 2012 Christmas season, yet many of my fellow Americans are not feeling the usual joy that has historically come with this time of year when we not only celebrate the birth of Christ, but celebrate a time to spend with friends and family. Instead, I sense there is almost a feeling of despair and desperation in the air.
Christmas itself and our right to celebrate it are under attack by those who want to strip America of our traditions and our values. In addition, millions of Americans are unemployed, and even many of those who do have jobs face an uncertain future. Regardless of what happens with the so-called “fiscal cliff” the hidden taxes in Obamacare will kick in on January 1, 2013 and people will see their take home pay decrease while their insurance premiums and cost of health care take a huge jump.
At the same time, thousands of new onerous and unnecessary regulations are being imposed on American businesses by the Obama administration that are going to result in increases in the prices of everything from food to energy and the loss of even more jobs. Small businesses are in the cross hairs of the Obama campaign to bring the American economy to its knees and everyone is afraid except for those who are looking forward to more “free stuff” from our new “Lord and Savior” as actor Jamie Foxx refers to our President.
The New Year will also see massive cuts to our military even as the Obama foreign policy of coddling our enemies is leading to rapid growth of Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other radical Islamic groups who have vowed to destroy Western civilization. In fact, the Obama administration’s latest move to “protect” America in a politically correct manner is have the military issue a new 75 page manual to the members of the military prohibiting our troops from saying anything that might be offensive to the Taliban or other Muslim extremists.
Many Americans believe that we have lost our moral compass and committed national suicide by reelecting a President who will continue to take away our basic freedoms. That is clearly the goal of our Dictator in Chief, but all is not lost yet. There are still many true Americans out there and we need to take heart from some of our past Christmases when all seemed lost.
In December 1777 General George Washington led a bedraggled and apparently thoroughly beaten Continental Army into its winter camp in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. There were only 12,000 men left in the army at that point and many left bloody footprints in the snow as they marched since they had no shoes. They also had little food, ammunition, and adequate clothing or blankets. That Christmas of 1777 was spent trying to construct enough shelters to keep them from freezing to death.
The outcome seemed inevitable; the promise of a new nation, free from British oppression, that had been born just seventeen months earlier by the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was not to be. As the winter got worse 2500 members of the meager army succumbed to various diseases, yet the rest continued to drill and train and they refused to give up. They emerged in the spring as a fighting force that would always be outnumbered and out gunned, yet they would fight for five more years and against all odds ultimately prevail.
Now fast forward to another Christmas season in Europe in 1944. The Nazis had launched a surprise offensive in the Ardennes in Belgium, overrun and virtually destroyed several American infantry divisions and trapped the 101st Airborne Division in the small town of Bastogne. The town was where several key roads merged and if it fell there was nothing to stop the Germans from dividing the Allied armies and prolonging WW II indefinitely.
The American paratroopers were outnumbered and running out of food, ammunition, and medical supplies, yet they refused to surrender and they stopped the Nazi offensive. When the Germans failed to take Bastogne they tried to bypass it shortly after Christmas and they found a gap in the U.S. lines. SS troops surged through it at night and after a fierce fight in the village of Sadzot overran Company B of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion killing, wounding or capturing half of the company and taking all of the 4.2 mortars.
The surviving Mortarmen, including my father 1st LT Roy Connelly, regrouped and with the help of a small contingent of stranded paratroopers and combat engineers they took back the town and their mortars. Then they held off the Nazi armored battalion for three days until relieved. There are countless stories like this throughout our history and they should give us comfort and hope.
We can’t give up and the people in Washington D.C. who think that they have a green light to subjugate us should remember that the United States is not a democracy and was never meant to be. Our founding fathers knew that a democracy could become a vehicle for a small majority of people to vote to deny basic human rights to everyone else.
In a Republic this can’t happen because the rights of all individuals are protected by law and in our case that Law is the Constitution. If any effort is made to take away those rights than we have a right and a duty to resist, and that is what we must do at every level. We must fight tyranny in our school boards, our city councils, state legislatures, in congress, and in the courts. Whether it is the tyranny of UN Agenda 21, gun control, denying us our religious freedom, or invading our privacy we can and will resist.
Christmas has always been a time of hope and this year must be no different. We must start off the New Year by redoubling our effort to take back our country. God Bless America and Merry Christmas.
Last year at this time I posted an article on this blog titled “A Christmas Story: 1944”. It is a story about the Christmas Eve my father spent in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. The story is in the older posts of the blog.
My Dad was in the 87th C…