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Veterans commemorate 75 years since Battle of the Bulge, end of WWII

American engineers emerge from the woods and moved out of defensive positions after fighting in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium during Battle of the Bulge. (U.S. Army/Released)

To mark a landmark anniversary, World War II veterans gathered last Saturday morning to reflect on the war 75 years after its end at the Battle of the Bulge Association annual meeting.

Five WWII veterans sat on a panel to share memories of their time serving and of the war’s end to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, which lasted from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, and ended with the Allies stopping Germany’s last major offensive campaign. The war ended later that year.

The panel, moderated by Robert Smith, director of the Fort Riley Museums, focused on the men’s memories of coming home and on everyday aspects of life while fighting abroad, like food and getting letters from home. Jim Sharp, Paul Scheid, Malcolm Strom, Julian Siebert and Carrol Joy spoke on the panel.

Sharp was in Germany when the war ended in Europe that May. He said his unit had captured a small town when some soldiers told them the news.

“The tankers had the radio going on their tank, and we didn’t know whether to believe it or not, but they told us (President Harry) Truman had declared the war is over,” Sharp said. “We were extremely elated.”

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Strom, who helped to move hospital units as needed and also transported medical supplies, said his unit was excited but uncertain of what it meant for them. WWII didn’t officially end until September 1945.

“The war was still going on in the Pacific and … they might just ship us there,” Strom said. “But in the end, we also were thinking about the possibility we might go home, and we were looking forward to that possibility, which for us it did turn out that way.”

Strom said that when he returned home, he landed in Arkansas, where his wife was waiting to meet him.

“It seemed like we spent about half a day trying to find each other,” Strom said. “I didn’t know really where I was and there was no way of communicating.”

The men also shared some of the more mundane aspects of their day-to-day life during that time, like what they ate. They spoke about rations they received from the Army, such as “C-rations,” which was food held in a can.

“We’d put it on the manifold of the truck to warm it up before we ate it,” Strom said. “In spite of that, we enjoyed it.”

Siebert’s experience was different, as he was held by the Germans as a prisoner of war for several months.

“I’d been pretty hungry,” Siebert said. “What food we had as a prisoner was mostly water, and it was supposed to have been vegetables in it, but there were more bugs than there were vegetables. … It didn’t make any difference what was in there, we just ate what we could.”

Sharp said that he felt at the time that he thought the food the soldiers got was delicious, but added that might have just been because he was hungry. Despite the challenges, he said he was better off than many German soldiers he and his unit captured.

“They would always have a brown loaf of bread, and in some cases that’s about all they had,” Sharp said. “They were close to malnourished.”

Scheid said he met many Germans in Berlin who would eye the candy bars he would sometimes receive as a luxury.

“They were eager for a Hershey bar,” Scheid said. “If you had a chocolate candy bar, they were your best friend.”

Sharp said being on the front lines was isolating, but when they did have the opportunity to get letters from family, it helped get soldiers through hard times.

“That was a morale booster to receive letters from home, and I was really thankful,” Sharp said.

Although military life is very different for today’s soldiers, Sharp said some lessons he learned still apply 75 years later.

“I would recommend they get all the education you can get, follow orders and obey your leadership,” Sharp said.

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© 2020 The Manhattan Mercury