Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas and the Battle Of The Bulge

It is at Christmas that the suffering and loneliness of soldiers fighting and dying away from home is more keenly felt. Today we at G.I. Joe Live want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas but also to ask that you remember the soldiers who were in the midst of battle and away from home both in the past, and today. We wanted to share a few stories from World War II, specifically the Battle of the Bulge, which was raging at Christmastime.

Our first story is from the collection "One Christmas Eve During World War II":
One of the most poignant stories I ever heard about World War II was about American servicemen fighting in the fierce battles in Europe, and how they stopped firing at the nearby German soldiers for a few moments because it was Christmas Eve. And, for some mysterious and awesome reason, the Germans stopped firing as well.
Someone began to sing the beloved hymn Silent Night, and the Germans joined the Americans with Stille Nacht.
For those few moments, the madness of war ceased, and all of those men became fathers, sons and brothers -- just people worshiping their God instead of soldiers fighting for their lives in the hell of the Battle of the Bulge.

The next story is from the memoirs and remembrances of a soldier who goes by the initials G.K.W. His story is as follows:

On 24 December 1944 I was spending my Christmas at a little place called BASTOGNE, Belgium, with the 101st Airborne Division. As many of you already know the story about the Battle of the Bulge, I won’t go into all the details about how we were surrounded and outnumbered by the German Army. It was a cold, bitter, dark night and around about midnight surprisingly quiet. All of a sudden, from the German position, we heard a single voice singing "SILENT NIGHT," in German. Soon more voices were added from the Germans. Suddenly, some American Soldier picked it up and before long most of us were singing along with the Germans. This went on for about 5 or 10 minutes and then stopped. A few minutes later we were back at each other, with guns blazing.This incident has stayed in my memory all these years (56) and when I hear Silent Night I remember. Later I talked to American, British and French Soldiers about it and some of them had experienced the same thing on whatever front they had been fighting on, (Italy, France, Holland). I have talked to Veterans of WW1 and they tell similar stories.
In the middle of the worst battle of WW2 there was Peace on Earth for a few minutes.

Another account of Christmas during war I found interesting was written by Corporal Delbert P. Berninghaus, who was a POW in Germany. There was no room in the POW camps for he and the other servicemen who were prisoners, so they were on the move and in the elements under the watch of German guards. Corporal Berninghaus was from West Bend, Iowa, and was in the 106th Infantry Division, 422nd Regiment. Here is his account:

As we were herded into the barns for the night, we would repeat our previously established routine. Winters in Germany are much like ours in the Midwest as far as temperatures and weather conditions are concerned. After walking all day through snow, slush, or mud, our feet were always cold and wet or damp. We had no overshoes for protection and any protection that might have built up on our combat boots from polish or care had long worn off. We would remove our shoes and massage each others’ feet to warm them and get the blood circulating again. We had no overcoats or blankets, so in an attempt to keep warm, we would huddle together to give each other body heat. After days of the living conditions under which we survived, we were filthy and sick with dysentery. Our very survival depended on each other .
Friendships formed as we bonded together in our struggle for survival. I guess in a strange sense of the word we became a family, looking out for one another. We would find ourselves grouped with the same bunch of boys from day to day, but our guards would change.
By morning our feet would be so swollen it was difficult to push our swollen feet back into our shoes. The guards would again assemble us and the barns usually would be searched by the dogs. Some of the boys attempted to escape by covering themselves with the straw or hay found in the barns. Some tried to hide in the haylofts of the barns; some simply tried running away over the hills. As I said, the barns would be searched by dogs; the dogs used, in most cases, were well trained German Shepherds. These dogs showed no mercy as they literally tore apart the boys hiding or attempting escape. There was no chance of survival when the dogs were turned loose in the barns or in pursuit of those on the run. I remember a change of the guard when I saw one of the dogs rip the clothing right off of a new guard before anyone could control the animal.
Christmas Eve day was eight days after our capture. Here I was, twenty years old, a prisoner of war in Germany, wondering if I would even live to see another Christmas. As usual the day began with marching on the country roads, destination still unknown. At each village we were told, "At the next stop there will be food for you", but the bombs were always ahead of us. Village after village lay in ruins, bombed before we came; our stomachs remained as empty as the German promises.
It was approximately 4 p.m. in the afternoon on Christmas Eve when we arrived in the little village where we would be spending the night. We would again be spending the night in a barn. The guards allowed me to go to the barn owner’s home to ask for food. I was hoping for some potatoes or apples. The man answering the door invited me inside. The gentleman was a raw-boned farmer with a warm friendly face. He wore a pair of little round wire-rimmed glasses. I looked around the room and saw no one other than the man, but suspected there were other family members, keeping out of sight. My eyes were immediately drawn to the evergreen tree standing in the room. The Christmas tree was not decorated as ours are today; it was standing there unadorned in all its splendor. I shall never forget the sight of that tree and the memories it triggered. Momentarily, I was at peace. It was beautiful! Away from home and the security I once knew, a lump formed in my throat. My eyes welled with tears. I asked the farmer, "Could you spare some food for me and the boys in the barn? Some apples or some potatoes, for we are very hungry. " On the table lay a coffeecake already cut in wedges. It was pie sized and covered with apple slices. Pointing to the cake, the man said, "Eat it, you eat the whole cake." I did eat the cake, the whole thing. I felt a certain amount of shame because I ate without sharing my treasure and at the same time gratitude. I was so happy. In this strange country of enemies, God had given me a friend. I asked if he had any more so I could give some to the boys. "Oh, no," he said, but he gave me a pail with apples and potatoes that I carried out to the others on that Christmas Eve. They ate the seeds, cores, and peels of the apples and the raw potatoes.
On Christmas morning, I went to thank the farmer and tell him goodbye. He again gave me a bucket of potatoes and apples. Our day was starting out better than it normally did. We again set out on our daily march taking us thirty-five to forty kilometers. This day the American fliers again flew over us; our hope was that they would not drop bombs, but food. To our surprise, they recognized us, dipping their wings. The event was a highlight of our day — our spirits soared. The planes flew on to their mission; we continued our trek across Germany.

As our family recounts the innumerable blessings of Liberty we currently enjoy, we challenge each of you to thank God for His goodness to us and our nation. May His bountiful love through the Gift of his Precious Son refresh your souls this night and always.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The First World War, Part Two.

The early months of 1918 had been promising for the German army. A revolution-torn Russia had been beaten decisively, and in March 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended the war on the eastern front in the German's favor. With the eastern front taken care of, Germany could now devote a mass number of soldiers and weapons to the western front; and so the Germans prepared a mighty series of attacks aimed at crushing the British and French Allied forces in France before the Americans arrived. They began the offensive on March 21st, 1918, when three German armies-numbering well over 800,000 men-attacked the British defenses of trenches along a 40 mile front and within two days British Field Marshall Douglas Haig's outnumbered troops were in a full retreat. As the British pulled back towards the English Channel, ready to evacuate France by sea, they opened a gap between themselves and the French forces. Before the German army could take the advantage and rush in to fill the gap, however, the French sent re-enforcements, and the Allied lines held. All throughout the spring of 1918, the Germans continued to hammer the allied lines. Again and again they would gain great amounts of ground, but only to be stopped short of a truly decisive victory. By summer, a great number of Americans were ready to fight, and it was clear that the great German offensive had failed. In mid-July, the German commander, Erich von Ludendorff, made a final effort by launching a attack in the Marne Valley aimed at Paris. This struggle was the turning point of the war; the exhausted Germans were halted once and for all, and an Allied counter-offensive began. There were now 1,000,000 Americans in France, and and another 500,000 would arrive by November. Using the newly arrived American troops to spearhead the drive in the Marne Salient, the Allies began pushing the German armies back, turning the western front into one enormous Allied attack. Although they met stiff resistance, the Allies were victorious. By fall, with a revolution threatening the Germans at home, the Germans willingly agreed to an armistice. Thus, on November 11th, the First World War came to an end.

Although most fighting in the western front took place in the trenches, filled with mud and bristling with barbed wire, there was also a reasonable amount of fighting in the nearby towns, woods, farms, and forests; of which we will be focusing on in this entry.

A American soldier runs for cover during the fighting near one of many small towns and settlements throughout the French countryside.

An American soldier moves through the dense woods in the first stages of the Meuse-Argonne offense. Note that he has his bayonet-a knife like weapon that could be attached to the end of a gun barrel-is fixed onto his rifle for hand-to-hand fighting. An ambush or attack by the enemy in the woods often ended up in hand-to-hand and close quarters combat, and the Allied Soldier had to be ready for anything.

A two-man crew prepares to fire this water-cooled Browning machine gun. Machine guns, first used by the U.S. Army during the American Civil War, were used by both sides in World War One.

Poison mustard gas, a German secret weapon, was used on the western front with deadly effect. Both sides had to wear protective masks equipped with a special air filter in order to survive. If you were exposed to the gas without a mask, it would result in blindness, burns, lung damage, but most of the time death. Here we see a American soldier wearing his gas mask while fighting in the Argonne forest in the fall of 1918.

Fighting in the swirling yellow-brown clouds of gas, a soldier takes aim at the enemy. Visibility was cut down when gas was used, and it was sometimes hard to tell friend from foe; and soldiers had to be careful at who they aimed at.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

War in Vietnam, part one

During the Vietnam War (1961-1975) the United States and the South Vietnamese armies fought against the combined forces of the North Vietnamese regular army and the irregular Viet Cong (or 'VC') guerrillas. Much of the fighting took place in the jungle or on rice 'paddies' (fields) run by local farmers. The land was lovely to look at, with mountains, green rice paddies, and beautiful tropical scenes; but that same terrain was treacherous to those who did not know their way about. The Viet Cong often planted explosives around the perimeter of rice fields, and the U.S. Infantrymen learned that it was usually safer to walk through the paddies, which were always flooded with water. Even there, however, it could be dangerous, as we will see in this following post.

My brothers and I took these pictures in our back yard behind our garden, where the grass was tall and shaggy--making a perfect tropical climate backdrop for these pictures.

A patrol of two U.S. Infantrymen moving across a rice paddy

A Viet Cong irregular guerrilla; note he wears civilian clothing, and his weapon is imported from the Soviet Union.

A guerrilla, after waiting in his concealed position for hours, takes aim at the patrol...

And fires.

Returning fire; a direct hit!

Monday, August 6, 2007

World War One: The Western Front

In the year 1918, the United States of America entered the First World War, deploying troops overseas to Europe. At that time, most of Europe's and North America's armies were using trench warfare; fighting by digging ditch-like trenches for battle positions and means of protection.

My brothers and I made these pictures not to long ago, making the "trenches" out of sticks and small-scale sandbags. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did making them!

This is how the American soldier, often known by their nick-name "doughboys" looked in the muddy farmland of France. Note how his rifle is fixed with a bayonet, a knife-like weapon that fitted onto the end of gun barrel for close combat.

Here, a soldier fires from his 'rifle pit'. Note that he wears a blanketroll on his back.

When charging the enemy, a soldier tried his best to find the most cover from enemy bullets and mortar shells.

Here a U.S. infantryman comes upon an abandon enemy machine gun nest; they had to take caution when doing this.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Allied Airborne Troops On D-day

On the early morning of June 6th, 1944, U.S. paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions dropped out of the sky by parachute, landing in the countryside of Normandy, France, behind German lines to surround them from the rear in order to make way for the Allied amphimbious assualt that would land on the beaches of the Normandy in a few hours. Most of them, however, did not land in their designated landing zones. The wind scattered many of them throughout the French coutryside, where they landed in trees, roads, fields, and even on rooftops! Once on the ground, many soldiers could not find their own units, and paratroopers from different companys and regiments had to fight the enemy together.

My brothers and I enjoyed making these pictures; we got our best G.I. Joe paratroopers together, and one of us would toss up a parachute in the air with G.I. Joe attached, while another one of us would be standing below on the ground, snapping away on our camera. I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as we did making it.

A paratrooper steadily floats down after being dropped out of a U.S. paratrooper aircraft.
Heading torwards the ground About to land
The German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel flooded fields with water to make the French farmland a bad place for a landing zone in preparation for any airborne invasion. The Allies overcame this obstacle, however, and they were soon moving inland.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

World War Two Urban Combat

During the second World War, during and after the D-day invasion, combat in urban areas became very common as Allied forces battled the Nazis to liberate Northern Europe and to end Hitler's reign of power. Many towns and villages throughout France, Holland, and Belgium became battlegrounds as stone and brick buildings, shelled and bombed to rubble, gave excelent cover for enemy soilders, machine-gunners, and snipers. The Allies had to fight their way from building-to-building in a deadly game of hide-and-seek, employing hand grenades, sub-machine guns, and any weapon that could be used. My brothers and I re-created these scenes after researching old books, looking at old photographs, and having been to a couple museums....

This Allied soldier is from the 82nd Airborne Division, one of two American Airborne units to drop out of the sky by parachute on the early morning of June 6th behind Nazi lines in Normandy (Northern France).A U.S. Infantryman blasts away at a German Nazi defender with his M3 "Grease Gun" a submachine gun called by this name due to the fact it highly resembles a grease gun.Grenades, light-weight bombs that could be thrown by hand, were used freely in street fighting, as they could be thrown quickly around a corner of a building to clear out any machine gun nest or rifle pit that might be on the other side.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

G.I. Joe Live

Welcome to the world of pretend, where toys come alive.