When Battle of the Bulge premiered on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, many people -- including veterans of the Bulge -- sent us comments on the film. We have reprinted a few of the letters we received below.
If you have a story about World War II, share your American Experience here.
Last night on Channel 10 Las Vegas, I saw a program entitled Guts and Glory: An AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Special. It was about the Allied Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. About three-quarters of the way through the show, two men were talking about the Battle of the Bulge and the part that the 28th Infantry Division Band participated in. One of the men whose name is Clyde Burkholder was my school chum and musician friend -- we played in dance bands together back in Erie, Pa in the 1930s and 1940s. I also was in the Battle of the Bulge with General Patton's 3rd Armored Division. I was really shocked to see Clyde because many of our musicians from Erie, Pa enlisted in the 28th Infantry Division Band. Several of my very close buddies died in that battle.
July 30, 1998
Sunday, February 5, I watched the PBS special "The Battle of the Bulge." It gave a compelling picture of the horrors and hardships confronted by the U.S. infantrymen during the winter of '44-'45 in Europe. Since I was an infantry medic with the 70th Division which fought in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace, France, from January 1 to the end of March, 1945, I empathized with the suffering of those soldiers in the Ardennes. Suddenly, though, the picture became more real to me. The picture on my TV screen was not from the Ardennes. It was from Wingen in Alsace. It showed the over-sized trench in the woods where the 70th Division medics laid the wounded (wrapped in blankets) until they could be evacuated. The scene shifted to a roadside in the town of Wingen. It showed the ditch where two lieutenants from the 276th Regt., 70th Division, lay among the dead to deceive the Germans who had overrun their position. Two men nearly froze to death before the Germans were driven back 18 hours later. The commentary with the scene implies that they were pictures from the Ardennes. The credits at the end of the film did not mention either Alsace or the 70th Division. This omission did not surprise me. Historians and the media have long ignored Alsace even though the German offensive there (called Operation Nordwind) was actually the second phase of the Ardennes-Alsace winter offensive which had been personally planned by Adolph Hitler. The U.S. Army acknowledged the connection between the battles in the Ardennes and in Alsace when it authorized the creation of the Ardennes-Alsace campaign ribbon to be awarded to any soldier who fought in either sector.
PBS has been the first to include Alsace "in the picture." I hope PBS will also decide to be the first to include Alsace in the text. When the Ardennes offensive began to stall, Hitler called his generals to a meeting at his headquarters on Dec. 27 1944, and ordered them to launch Operation Nordwind on New Year's Eve. He was convinced that the offensive would be a success against the thinly defended Alsatian front, and also that a quick breakthrough there would force the Americans to divert the Third Army away from the Ardennes. The offensive began on schedule. The initial attacks were successful; but, between January 3 and January 7, at three crucial locations in the Vosges Mountains, the offensive was stopped. The bloodiest battle took place at Wingen (which was pictured in the PBS documentary). The Germans fought savagely for several weeks to resume their forward progress, but they were unable to make any substantial gains. By the middle of February, the Americans were back in the offensive. Hitler's final dream of snatching victory from defeat had died in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace.
John S. Zynsky
March 3, 1995
I take pen in hand to express my disappointment with the special last Wednesday about the Battle of the Bulge. It was touted to have been a story about the foot soldier, but I think it fell short.
The focus was too narrow geographically. While a focal point was Bastogne and Belgium, the effect of the Bulge was felt everywhere from Holland to the Vosges mountains of Alsace. The First Third and Seventh armies were all involved, yet the larger scope was ignored.
There may have been a few people dancing in the streets of Paris, but for a lot of us life before, during and after this battle required a lot of effort over a long time on the lines. It almost made a mockery of what this was all about to see so much time taken up by a couple of trombone players from the 28th Division band. Where did the producer dig up these clowns?
It was hard to tell just what the producer's agenda really was with his putdown of Eisenhower and Bradley, but I was under the impression that I was being treated to revisionist history. This treatment reflects either some rear echelon commando or someone who probably wasn't there.
I watch some of these things because they were such an indelible part of my life. I am a combat infantry man, and of the three major battle stars I have, one is for the battle of the Ardennes which included the Bulge and events before and after it.
If there is a route to express one person's reaction to the program, please send this along. If there isn't, just toss it out. No acknowledgement needed or expected.
Worthington L. Smith
November 12, 1994
I write with regard to last month's airing of the "Battle of the Bulge" on Channel 44 on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
The program was well presented and was quite interesting.
However, two significant facts concerning the "Battle of the Bulge" were not presented. First, the producers failed to mention the role of German paratroopers disguised as American military policemen, who wreaked havoc on the Allied lines at the outset of the battle. Secondly, the program also failed to recognize the important military contribution of the All-Black 741st Tank Regiment under the command of General Patton.
Kelly K. Lydon
Needham Heights, Massachusetts
December 13, 1994
I recently watched your excellent program on Battle of the Bulge -- presented Monday, Nov. 6th.
I was one of the 18-year-old replacements for the infantry divisions losing so many men killed and/or wounded during the bulge of 1944-1945.
I was assigned to the 12th Armored Division -- as an infantry replacement. As the enclosed article -- "Operation Northwind" tells -- the bulge was all along the western front, although it started in mid-December as in the enclosed article -- "Busting the Bulge."
I am glad to see that your station is showing authentic documentaries about the war -- rather than war movies! The movies always make our U.S. men looking great -- never showing the dead and wounded -- and the atrocities suffered by the servicemen who were taken prisoner, etc....
Our 12th Armored was one of the divisions liberating the concentration camp at Landsberg. This was another atrocity against the Jewish prisoners near the end of WWII in April of 1945.
I have represented my 12th Armored Division at the Jewish Holocaust 50th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps....
My reason for writing is to suggest that your station continue to lead the way in showing documentaries -- rather than movies -- on true life happenings!
Narragansett, Rhode Island
November 15, 1995
PBS-AMERICAN EXPERIENCE's Battle of the Bulge has offended millions of us Vets WW-II for the following reasons: It emphasized three men whose actions writ-large positively would not have stopped Hitler Germany -- a real threat to world civilization. Namely, a man who froze his toes and missed all battles, a band player who saw no combat at all, a belated conscientious objector who dropped out early and left the burden to others.
And the production totally ignored ELSENBORN, where the real Battle of the Bulge occurred (B-B was in Belgium, not France; it was more than "Nuts" at Bastogne; top brass was more at fault that Ike's merely assuming Germany was all through). The program totally ignored the dominant Division at Elsenborn, the rooky 99th and its UNIQUE STORY: Thousands of the nation's top honors college men were placed in the 99th under corporals, some of whom were illiterate (coal miner's sons deprived of a formal education). Nonetheless, illiterate corporals and future doctors, professors, engineers were all good kids who had been raised Thou shalt not kill, and were repelled by the war. I don't recall a single wanton killer among us. In these regards we were similar to PBS's men. But there was an important difference:
By far, most of us stuck it out, did not freeze our toes, did not belatedly cry Conscientious Objector. Instead we MADE ourselves do what we had to do to stop Hitler Germany. All while enduring the indignities of the Prussian Military Caste System. With low rank and pay. And at much risk to our lives. PBS owes THAT kind of Vet real recognition.
William Spencer Jarnagin
I would like you to know how much I enjoyed watching your production the evening of 9 November 1994 on WCET, Cincinnati, Ohio. Your interviews done with the soldiers who fought in that campaign were excellent.
I would like to offer one correction. The most casualties suffered by this nation in one battle was the Meuse-Argonne offensive, September 26 to Nov 11, 1918 in which the AEF had over 117,000 casualties, including 26,000 dead.
Once again, thanks for a wonderful and heart-rendering program.
Paul F. Henry
Fort Thomas, Kentucky
November 10, 1994
A half-century ago I was a young rifleman in the "Bulge." One of the people interviewed on your program was Pfc. Bob Conroy. Some of the things he mentioned brought back painful memories of that horrific time. Mr. Conroy was identified as being with the 83rd Infantry Division. I myself was a replacement with the 83rd (The Buckeye Division) - 329th Regiment - 2nd Battalion - F Company.
Some memories are hard to re-open... This letter is being written not without emotion. I cannot remember a damn thing I did last week, but I can't forget a single moment of what happened up there, fifty years ago, in that frozen hell, the Ardennes.
January 20, 1995
We in the 99th Infantry Division Association are conducting a nationwide publicity campaign to correct (which means, invert) the story of the Battle of the Bulge as the general public knows it. At all times in the past, the media has portrayed the battle as being won at Bastogne.... In reality it was the longest and worst route, and was fought a week after the critical battle was fought on Elsenborn Ridge, back where the Germans started -- a position still holding out 53 days later. The was the decisive battle of the first two days. Here the green 99th Inf Div on the main point of Hitler's masterstroke was attacked by three Divisions, including prime SS Panzers. If they hadn't held, the Nazis would easily have taken Antwerp in two days.
...Since you will be broadcasting a Battle of the Bulge show for your American Experience series, we thought we should advise you of our position and campaign. Even though the show is already taped.
We do not intend to let the media drift continue. For example, in the most popular movie, we are cast indirectly as a "demoralized mob" -- these youths who saved the battle, whom youths of today should be learning about. Kids who willingly accepted their general's order to defend "At All Costs" -- that is, a marriage with death -- some companies surviving with 14 out of 300 men on the second day. Surviving the greatest artillery attack of WWII, while decimating their enemy. Stalking Panzer tanks with only bazookas. On the fourth day the SS gave up. The Bulge Battle was decided.
Surrounded at Bastogne a week later, Gen. McAuliffe sent a message to the Germans, "Nuts!" Thank you for reading this, and best regards.
September 20, 1994
My American Experience
Were you there for the Battle of the Bulge? The storming of Normandy beach? The Victory in the Pacific? Or perhaps your friends and relatives have passed on stories of their own World War II experiences that you would like to share.