#Nuts & Nutcrackers, #Christmas in #Belgium
Jim and I are about to settle into our first Christmas in #Brussels.
Our tree, un sapin de Noel, is up, our table decorated, and candles glow. #Spotify plays endless Christmas music throughout our home– #Nat King Cole, #Bing Crosby, #Rosemary Clooney, #Ella Fitzgerald, #Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians along with a smattering of French Christmas Carols, les chants de Noel. This will be our first Christmas alone, away from home, friends and family.
But we’re not the only Americans ever to find themselves in Belgium, alone and away from family at Christmas. Not by a long shot. This week marks a significant anniversary for our nation. And the momentous event happened right here in tiny, Belgium. Seventy years ago, in the dwindling days of December 1944 with a cold and snowy winter upon them, American forces came under attack. #The Battle of the Bulge, as we now call the engagement, is called the largest and bloodiest battle fought by Americans in World War II. In January 1945, with the battle waning, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said , “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war, and will, I believe be regarded as an ever famous American victory.”
The Germans launched the surprise offensive in the Ardennes, the eastern frontier of Belgium where the country borders Luxembourg. After D-Day earlier in June of ’44, Allied forces pushed the Germans east. With the Red Army advancing on his Eastern front, Hitler planned the counteroffensive to split the English and American forces in half with a drive toward the deep water port of Antwerp.
The Germans counted on the element of surprise. Their plan required poor weather to neutralize the superior air power of the Allied forces. They wanted a rapid push toward the Meuse River, halfway to Antwerp. After an artillery assault on the thinly spread American forces on December 16, the Germans scored early victories.
By the 20th, the Germans seemed poised to take Bastogne, a strategic town at the crossroads of seven paved roads essential for a German advance. On the 22nd of December, German General, Luttwitz sent a note to US General Anthony McAuliffe, acting Commander of the 101st Airborne Division demanding an honorable surrender. A rejection, warned the German General, would mean total annihilation. The story goes that when presented with the ultimatum, McAuliffe mumbled “Aw Nuts!” When pressed for an official reply to the Germans, the Americans couldn’t come up with anything better and sent the following response:
To the German Commander.
The American Commander
The American slang confused the German General. He was finally told that the term was American for “Go to Hell.’For the next several days over Christmas, 1944, and outnumbered five to one, the Americans held firm. Finally, on December 26th, Patton’s third army broke through the encirclement and reached the men who would become known as the Battered Bastards of Bastogne. With clearing skies on the 26th, allied air support returned. By mid-January, the Germans were pushed back but not without significant casualties on both sides.
I was honored to visit #Bastogne and the Battle Memorial in 1993 with my mom and dad, a World War II veteran. Now living in #Belgium I visited again this July with Jim and a friend from Chicago. The star-shaped memorial is somber. In my mind this is sacred ground equivalent to the beaches of Normandy, the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and Ground Zero in New York. A visitor can’t help but get goosebumps, well with tears, and swell with pride.
To commemorate the battle’s seventieth anniversary, the Belgian King and Queen traveled to the area. Bastogne’s windows were filled with the Stars and Stripes, and the Black, Yellow and Red vertical stripes of the Belgian flag. Simple signs of “Thank You” written in English expressed the sentiment. And in what has become an annual tradition since General McAuliffe’s blunt reply, the King and Queen led the crowd in throwing nuts.
So this #Christmas, pause a moment to thank the brave men who hunkered down in #Bastogne, seventy years ago without a tree, decorated holiday table or their loved ones to embrace. Think of the brave military men and women who will be away this Christmas, 2014. Then hug your own loved ones extra tight and give thanks you are together.
Tis the Season…to once again wish, hope and yes, pray for an end to all war. Tis indeed the season to dream…