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Christmas During the Battle of the Bulge

On December 16, 1944, German forces surprised American soldiers in the densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, with a massive offensive also known as the Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Counteroffensive. Germany pushed through an Allied line, creating a bulge in the Allied defensive lines. The deadly battle, which lasted until January 25, 1945, was the largest on the European western front during WWII and resulted in an estimated 1 in 10 American combat casualties during the entire war. It also meant that thousands of soldiers spent Christmas 1944 in temperatures that hovered around zero, in knee-deep snow, and with limited rations for Christmas dinner. On the home front, their families spent a nervous holiday season, waiting for word of their loved ones.

Cpl. Frank D. Vari spent Christmas Eve huddled in a foxhole as shells exploded around him all night long. “We could hear their guns going off and the shells landing at the same time. They were close. They almost surrounded the whole place. I remember Christmas Day. I got up, and we had a real bad night, with artillery and everything. The first thing I saw was the steeple of a church down in the valley. It was a beautiful day, the sun was just coming up over a little village at the bottom.” The clear skies allowed US planes to reinforce soldiers along the front. The break in the weather saved Vari’s unit.

Sgt. Metro Sikorsky woke up Christmas Day 1944 in a bombed-out building. He was 25-years-old and serving in Company B, 17th Tank Battalion of the 7th Armored Division. It was his first time away from home in Pennsylvania. All around were the bodies of the frozen and his job included picking up the dead. He said it was so cold that when a soldier died, in a short time the body froze where it lay. There were no presents and no Christmas dinner, but Sikorsky felt lucky to be alive. It was so cold that soldiers cut blankets into strips and wound them around their frozen feet.

Tech Sgt. Maurice Glenn Hughs remembered the terrible winter conditions during the battle. “Hundreds of people lost their feet because they were frozen,” he said. Hughs was hospitalized after the battle and doctors in Paris told him that his feet would need to be amputated. “My legs were painted up to my knees to be amputated. And then the doctors checked and said they wouldn’t have to be,” said Hughs.

Mattie Dickenson of Georgetown, Louisiana, remembered Christmas 1944 as a difficult one. She anxiously waited for news from her husband Benjamin F. Dickenson. Benjamin was drafted when he was 38-years-old and found himself fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. “I do remember that was the saddest Christmas I ever spent. For 21 days I didn’t know if he was dead or alive,” said Mattie. Though Benjamin was wounded, he made it home alive. Mattie kept a piece of the parachute that dropped supplies to her husband at Bastogne.

Soldiers from the Third United States Army carried a printed copy of Gen. George Patton’s Christmas Prayer of 1944. Patton had a copy distributed to each soldier before the battle. It petitioned the heavens for good weather and concluded with a Christmas greeting from the General. It read, “To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete the victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”  

The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last major offensive along the Western Front. Within a month Allied forces pushed the Germans back and closed the bulge. The battle was called “the greatest American battle of the war” by Winston Churchill and it crushed Germany’s hopes for ultimate success in the war. To learn more about the Battle of the Bulge and soldiers who fought in it, search Fold3 today!

270 Comments

  1. Thank you to all our Veterans, from every allied nation who fought with us ! As a Native American with a long family history of Veterans in multiple wars in various theatres for America, I have a tremendous respect for all who served. When I read these stories of the battle of the bulge, I am moved with emotion and pride of the many brave servicemen and women who served our country. I add these memories to the history in my mind to where we are today as a nation. Two Canadian stories are included in this mental collection, Dieppe in WW2 and the Halifax explosion during WW 1. Though there are of course many more, I am grateful for all the sacrifices made by our great nations and by the many Veterans who paid the highest cost for the freedoms we all have today. As a protestant Pastor, I thank all who served, I do what I do because you did what you did in service to your country !

  2. Annette says:

    This is why we stand with hand over heart and pledge allegiance to our flag and sing the National Anthem with gratitude and reverence. It is also why I think those that take a knee have a right to but are spoiled, ungrateful, and disgusting people.

  3. Roy McCorkle says:

    Your article left out the deaths of 800 men of the 66th Division who died on Christmas Eve when their ship the S.S. Leopolville was sunk in the English Channel by a German U-Boat. The 66th was the only division left in England and after the German attack they were being rushed to France. Though they were within 5 miles of Cherbourg Harbor. Rescue efforts were delayed because rescue personnel were out partying. The men who went into the water could not last more then 30 minutes in the freezing water. This incident was covered up by the American high command for months.

    • Norman Rosenblatt says:

      Thank you, Roy McCorkle, for bringing that incident to light. I found a thorough review of that horrible sinking, please click on this link for the story:

      https://uboat.net/history/leopoldville.htm

      Did you have a family member on the S.S. Leopoldville?

    • Gaye Willis says:

      My husband’s uncle, Waldo Willis, perished the night. It is such a sad story!

      Thank you for sharing the link. This story needs to be told.

    • Ruth Kendall says:

      Roy McCorkle – In researching this war while writing a piece about the men from Chickasaw County, Mississippi, who paid the ultimate price, I learned that Audie Carter, a young country boy from Pyland, was on this ship and of course lost his life. When my husband and I got to digging, we learned that William D. Sykes, (another Pyland boy) died on the USS Yorktown, my husband’s uncle (John C. Kendall) died when the merchant ship he was on was destroyed in the Irish Sea by a German torpedo in late August, 1944. Sherman Higginbotham, another from Pyland/Thorn area, died on the USS Monaghan in Dec. of ’44. Our search was an eye-opener – 4 young men who grew up, as I wrote, “in spittin’ distance of each other” died at sea. We knew nothing about the USS Leopoldville until we began this search. I agree with you that someone should have been held responsible for this tragecy. AND – there were McCorkles in Chickasaw County. Do you have roots here?? Thanks.

    • Roy McCorkle says:

      I am not familiar with any McCorkle’s in Mississippi.
      My father Roy Jr. was one of the men who went down with the ship. He was one month shy of his 19th birthday.
      In Feb. 1945 my grandmother received a letter from Mrs. J. E. Mortimer, Winona, Miss. no street address. She wrote to ask if my grandmother had heard anything about what happened in the sinking of the ship as her only son, James Emmett Mortimer was also missing and was on the same ship.
      You can read more about the sinking on the internet under S.S. Leopoldville or 66th Division. There are also several books on the sinking.
      Roy

  4. Thanks to our soldiers who pushed back the
    Bulge.”

    Your service to your country should and will always be remembered.

    An Army Veteran

  5. John Torres says:

    My Father was a member of the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles.
    463rd Field Artillery unit, he maned a 50 Cal Manchine gun.
    He told me that they did not take Christmas Day off, in fact Hitler wanted the surrounded town of Bastogne for Christmas. But the 101st and others held their ground and denined Hitler request for the capture of Bastogne.
    They knew it was do or die once his Commander told the German Commander,
    NUTS, when ask to surrender the town of Bastogne.

    Very Proud Son and God Bless them All !!!

  6. John N. Englesby says:

    My uncle, Leslie Winsand, a young dairy farmer from rural, west-central WI, was also in the Bulge at Bastogne with the 101st. He was a sergeant and a glider infantryman, who always had trouble afterwards with his feet, because they were so damaged by prolonged exposure to the extreme cold.

  7. Kathleen Worthington says:

    My father, Norman C Shoop, was in the Battle of the Bulge. He didn’t talk much about it but, “Damn, it was cold”. My husband and I went to Bastogne with a Boy Scout Troop one year, about 1986. A local came out and asked us if our dad’s were here, and I told him that my dad was. He wanted to take us home, feed us and tell us about it. The locals still appreciate of what those solders did.

  8. Lupe Salain says:

    Thank you to all our great veterans for standing in the gap and fighting for our freedom. God Bless You All!✝️

  9. Robert Farney says:

    I don’t know if the photo of GIs in chow line in the snow is from Thanksgiving or Christmas, 1944. But I believe there was a tragedy associated with the Thanksgiving dinner. Eisenhower announced that every GI would receive a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day. This meant that many of the GIs had to return to central mess points to receive the meal. Eisenhower’s staff advised against this meal as it would concentrate GIs in assembly points known to the Germans who could inflict heavy causality just when the most GIs were gather together. Eisenhower persisted, however, and exactly as feared, German artillery pounded US mess points inflicting heavy causalities. Like the sinking of the Leopoldville, the Thanksgiving Day causalities were not made known to the public at the time.

  10. Dannie Ross says:

    my father Frank Ross fought at the bulge, crossed the Roer, the Rhine and the Elbe.
    He was a combat engineer in the 84th infantry division under Major General A.R. Bolling … enjoy your site

  11. Phillip Yeager says:

    Sgt Norman L Rigdon, Co F, 262nd Infantry Regiment of the 66th Infantry Division was on the Leopoldville on December 24th when it left Southhampton at 9AM. His unit was in the area where the torpedo struck and his body was never recovered. His older brother, Elmer and my father, Emmett Yeager, were together in a foxhole in the Ardennes on Christmas Day when Elmer received notice that Norman was missing in action. They were all friends from Farmington Missouri. After the war ended, they were part of a group that founded a VFW Post in Farmington, the Norman L. Rigdon Post #5896.

  12. VERA MCHALE says:

    It will never quit bringing tears to my eyes. It didn’t end when Hitler died. The scars it left were eternal.

  13. Frances Weber says:

    My Mother’s brother was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. All of her siblings have passed but I remember him and remember his funeral when his BODY was returned. I remember how sad a situation this was. Now at 83 years of age, I have so many questions. After seeing the movie about “The Band of Brothers,” I feel that he may have been killed while he was hungry and cold. We was the one of 3 brothers that left his job at a bank to go into the army. His 2 brothers were more athletic and returned home after the war. I will always remember him because he brought me a silver medal and chain when he came home on his last furlough. Before that Christmas was killed my Grandmother helped me write a letter to him. I know he survived Christmas because he wrote a letter to the family and said he had Christmas Dinner with a French Family and so much enjoyed being at a table with a white Tablecloth. In January after he was killed, his personal effects were returned. The letter I wrote to him was included with them. Before my grandmothers died, she gave that letter back to me. I still have that letter! Now I am writing my life story and will include as much information as I can about him as I can. Thanks so much for all those who will help us to know more about “ The Battle of the Bulge.”

  14. Kathy Worthington says:

    My Mom received a message that my Dad had died just to receive a message later that he did not.

  15. Konnie says:

    My stepdad, Al G. Boeger, fought and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. Like most of the men who returned from WWII, he didm’t talk about his war experiences for many years.

    I believe he was 19 when he landed on the beach on D-Day.

    I wish he was still alive to see the coverage and recognition that the 75th anniversary of the Bulge is having. He would have been very proud. He was in the 99th Infantry Division.