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.