PUNTA GORDA — Veterans still remember how cold and hungry they were 75 years ago in the forests of Ardennes in Belgium.
They also remember being surrounded. And they remember an American general telling the Germans “Nuts” when asked to surrender.
These and other stories were part of Punta Gorda’s Military Heritage Museum remembrance of the costliest battle for the US Army, the Battle of the Bulge, which resulted in over 100,000 casualties. The museum Saturday had a special exhibit, as well as a documentary and author Charley Valera to discuss what it was like for his father and others to serve in World War II.
Valera is the author of ”My Father’s War: Memories from Our Honored WWII Soldiers.” Here, he recounts his interviews with 18 World War II veterans, including Purple Heart recipients and those who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
The Battle of the Bulge was German dictator Adolf Hitler’s last big offensive push in World War II against the western front, and he aimed to split the Allies heading to Germany. The deadly campaign resulted in a bulge into front lines on the map.
One veteran of the fight, Valera said, went three days without food and water, and just remembered being surrounded.
Another said he “knew we were cooked,” Valera said, with the landscape looking as if a tornado had buzzed through, smashing trees, while it was cold and foggy.
“Fortunately, we outdid them,” Valera said of American counter-punches. “That was a close one.”
Since German troops failed to divide Britain, France, the United States and its many allies with the Ardennes offensive, this paved the way for ending World War II in May 1945.
The battle lasted six weeks, from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945—75 years ago Saturday—during frigid weather and heavy snow. Thirty German divisions attacked American troops across 85 miles of the densely wooded Ardennes Forest.
The battle got its name from the Allied line taking on the appearance of a large bulge as German troops drove into the Ardennes.
The museum late Saturday hosted Dave Bray USA, a US veteran who is now a national touring musician, dedicating his career to celebrating and supporting US veterans, active-duty military, fire, police and first-responders.
Nate Winkler, also a veteran, opened for Bray. Winkler is vice chairman for the Veteran’s Initiative for Therapeutic Arts, or VITA.
The museum’s Battle of the Bulge exhibit is displayed at its front atrium, 900 West Marion Ave. in Punta Gorda, until the end of the month. 941-575-9002