Amid gunshots, explosions and smoke, the Battle of the Bulge came alive last week at Sommer Park, almost 75 years from the start of the key World War II clash.
The Central Illinois WWII Reenactors depicted an encounter based on the U.S. Army’s ill-fated 106th Infantry Division. On Dec. 16, 1944, as Germany launched its last great offensive campaign, two of the division’s three regiments were surrounded by Axis soldiers. Three days later, the 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments surrendered, with the Germans gaining 6,000 prisoners.
After the reenactment, Bob Clark bemoaned the division’s lack of combat experience in the face of a surprise attack.
“They were basically annihilated,” said Clark, 76, of Wyoming, an Air Force veteran who serves as president of the reenactment group. “They were very green when they went to war.”
Last week, Axis troops made quick work of Allied forces. With the corpses of U.S. soldiers littering the ground, German personnel marched survivors away, hands in the air. Meanwhile, two Axis officers barked orders in German, forcing an American medic to tend to a wounded German soldier.
The day’s first reenactment was watched by about 100 spectators, including dozens of children. One lass, atop her father’s shoulders, heard the first gun blasts and asked, “Those aren’t real bullets, are they, Daddy?”
In the five-week Battle of the Bulge, the Allies eventually turned back the Germans, who lost as many as 98,000 troops, compared with 9,000 on the Allied side. It was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by America during the war.
Brendan Schuller, a 20-year Army veteran who served with the Allied reenactors Saturday, said he appreciates the opportunity to walk in the boots of his military forebears.
“My grandpa was a World War II vet,” said Schuller, 37, of Peoria, the group’s vice president. “For me, it gives me a chance to see how it was like for soldiers back then.”
Clark said the reenactments allow history to not only come alive, but also to stay alive.
“We find they don’t teach it in schools anymore,” he said. “If they don’t teach it, it didn’t happen. Well, it did happen.
“And if it weren’t for those guys, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have now.”
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