The Bulge

Map_of_Malmedy-Stavelot_December_1944

Seventy years ago, in the early morning hours of 16 December 1944, Allied troops in Europe were awakened by artillery barrages and the sounds of German armored infantry beginning a surprise attack that penetrated Allied lines, creating a “bulge” in the front over the next few days and weeks.

My father, now 92 but then only 22 years old, was serving with the 654th Engineering Battalion – a unit of map-makers, printers and lithographers, trained largely in the urban Midwestern technical high schools of Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cleveland, etc. (in my father’s case, Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis). Like most of the common soldiers and support troops of WW2, they were largely drawn from the high school classes of 1940,’41, ’42, and ’43.

In the very first chapter of Citizen Soldiers (arguably his best book), Stephen Ambrose identifies the production and distribution of maps such as those produced by the 654th Engineering Battalion as “a critical and never-ending process – eventually in the Normandy campaign, the U.S. First Army passed out 125 million maps.” About 25 years ago, I found in the bookshop of London’s Imperial War Museum several copies of a history of WW2 told by the use of the maps used by any Allied unit wondering what’s the best way to get where they were supposed to go next – several of the maps in that book bore the imprint of the 654th Engineering Battalion.

In December 1944, Dad’s unit had established a map depot containing 1.5 million maps in the Bock Tannery on the banks of the River Ambleve at Stavelot, Belgium. Here’s the account from the official unit history of the 654th Engineering Battalion, produced shortly after V-E day in 1945 by those who served in the unit:

“Although we had a paratroop alert, and heard some unexplained artillery racket from the direction of Malmedy [about 6 miles away, and about which more later—JSW] nobody expected any real excitement. The first indication that things were getting pretty warm was on the evening of Sunday, December 17, when a sentry from another engineer outfit rushed into our orderly room with word that he had seen German tanks and had been fired on at a road block less than a mile away, across the river. He was sent back to his unit to report, and a little later ha and another man from his unit recrossed the bridge in a jeep to see if the road back was still being held. They had just got across the bridge when they drew a heavy burst of enemy fire, wounding both of them and wrecking the jeep…In the meantime we had taken up defensive positions along the riverbank with our machine gun set up to guard the bridge…

“Since our orders were to hold out until relief arrived, we knew we were in for a hot night. Heavy firing broke out along the river. Mortar shells and machine gun slugs were coming our way, and we answered them with our carbines. From midnight until dawn of December 18th we alone held Stavelot against the German First SS Panzer Division. If the German commander had known that the east bank of the Ambleve, which he wanted very badly to cross, was being held by a mere handful of surveyors, draftsmen, and clerks, he could have sent his tanks roaring across the bridge and up the back road to Spa and Liege. As it worked out, we kept Jerry ducking all night long. Our carbines silenced at least one German machine gun which was operating only fifty yards from the main warehouse of the map depot, and by morning, when the armored infantry arrived to take over the defense of Stavelot, our line was intact, and the line of the main German thrust had swung to the south, trying to find a softer spot in American lines… When we pulled out in the morning [under orders from above to fall back toward Spa and Trois-Ponts, deemed by the Allied brass to be more defensible] we hadn’t lost a man, we had held our position, and we had caused the enemy, with his determination, casualties and plenty of trouble.”

According to some of the “standard” histories of WW2 – usually composed decades later by using many such unit histories, interviews, letters, and many other source documents – the engineers from the “other unit” were elements of the 291st Engineering Battalion, which was in part responsible for the removal and documentation of at least 76 American corpses slaughtered – machine-gunned to death while standing in an open field, having surrendered and been disarmed by the Germans. This was the infamous Malmedy Massacre at the Baugnez Crossroads, only about 6-7 miles from Stavelot where the 654th was stationed (the definitive account is Crossroads of Death by James J. Weingarten, University of California Press, 1979). They were not the only disarmed POW’s massacred by German forces during the Battle of the Bulge.

Had the 654th realized that the Germans they were facing across the Ambleve was the notorious Kampfgruppe Peiper, they might have had a more sobering perspective on their predicament. The commander, Joachim Peiper, was the “point of the spear” of the German attack sweeping west to seize river bridges all the way to Huy. Indeed, even the armored infantry which replaced the 654th at Stavelot was unable to hold the bridge the following day; an attempt to blow the bridge before the Germans could cross was evidently stymied in part by the infiltration of at least two of Colonel Otto Skorzeny’s English-speaking German troops operating behind the Allied lines in captured American uniforms and Jeeps. Peiper’s uncharacteristic hesitation that night at Stavelot was probably as much an attempt to regroup his men, who had been fighting steadily for 36 hours, as well as allow the remainder of his armor, stretched out for miles behind him, to catch up to Peiper’s lead elements. Had Peiper known that Stavelot was the site not only of the map depot, but also one of the largest Allied fuel depots in all of Europe, storing millions of gallons of gasoline, he would no doubt have stormed across the bridge without hesitation.

Over the decades, often relying on the first-person accounts in the 654th unit history, I have tracked the course of where my father was stationed all across Europe, beginning at Tetbury, England (near the current summer palace of Prince Charles in the Cotswolds – where the 654th assembled the huge 6-inches-to-the-mile 3-D relief map of the Normandy beaches used by Eisenhower and the top brass for the main briefing in London, including Churchill himself, of the D-Day invasion – described in the opening chapter of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, and formerly discussed on this blog). The trail then led across Omaha Beach, through Paris, across France and Belgium, and ultimately across the ruined Siegfried Line and the wreckage of Aachen into Germany (first stop at Bad Godesburg, north of Koblenz and about 2 miles from the famous Bridge at Remagen).

One of the most memorable evenings in our “family history” was taking my children to Bad Godesburg nearly 50 years after their grandfather was there, having supper at a sidewalk café within sight of the stanchions of the ruined “Bridge at Remagen,” explaining to a very attentive audience the significance of WW2 and the “citizen soldiers” like their grandfather who each played their part in the “Mighty Endeavor.”

Often accompanied by my good friend and former student, Steve Wallace – who during his 20+ years living in Germany has forgotten more about WW1 & WW2 battlefields than most of us will ever know – I have located many of the places my father’s unit occupied decades before. This included a foray into the Belgian woods with a metal detector (with permissions from the museums and authorities controlling those sites) which produced a buried, mud-encrusted but relatively well-preserved Nazi helmet not far from Spa; it occurred to me then that “the guy who wore this might well have shot at my Dad!” That helmet now resides in my office at home.

Today my father is in a nursing home in Indianapolis, his mind still clear and his resolve strong despite the fact that his body will no longer do everything he wants it to. My thoughts and prayers are with him tonight, as I consider the circumstances he and millions of his comrades faced seven decades ago. Thanks, Dad – I love you!JHW-WW2

Book on the origin of Israel available

stevewolfgang:

This book is still available on Kindle at $2.99

Originally posted on Ferrell's Travel Blog:

Daniel I. Block’s book, Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention?, is available in Kindle format today for $2.99. The retail price of the hardback is $28.

The publisher (B&H) of the 2008 book describes it as

a collection of essays responding to the radical claims that Israel and its history actually began following the Babylonian exile, and that the history of Israel we read about in the Bible is a fictionalized account.

Contributors are leading Bible and archaeology scholars who bring extra-biblical evidence to bear for the historicity of the Old Testament and provide case studies of new work being done in the field of archaeology.

The book includes the following essays dealing with some of the current discussions in Biblical studies.

  • Israel – Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention? – Daniel I. Block
  • The Value and Limitations of the Bible and Archaeology – Alan R. Millard
  • Contextual Criticism…

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Yellow Jackets and the Gospel

From my eloquent youngest daughter, about her daughters, life, death, and sacrifice.

http://www.lindsayslens.com/blog/utterly-helpless

UTTERLY HELPLESS — Posted by Lindsay Wolfgang Mast — 9-30-14

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Romans 5:6-10

It happened faster than anyone was prepared for. My husband, our three-month-old, and I were lingering over coffee at one of the campsites we were sharing with several other families for the weekend. We were enjoying being in the woods with a group that has been going on this annual camping trip for more than a decade now. About two dozen children, including our two older children played in groups either in the woods or on the playground.

Suddenly, rising above our conversation, the bird noises, and the squeals of happy children, was a sound quite unlike any I’ve ever heard. It was a scream, a child’s scream. It seemed to go on and on. Instead of the usual dissolving into sobs, it grew louder, more urgent, and was soon joined by the same scream from other children. I suddenly understood fully why such a sound is described as ‘blood curdling.’

As fast as Melissa, another mother in the group, could say “Adults.  That’s a cry adults need to go to!” there were about ten of us on our feet, trying both to move toward the sound and to figure out who the screams belonged to.

As the sound persisted,I thought “Someone in this group is going home without a child.” I wasn’t sure what mess we were about to behold, but I pictured blood, or lost limbs, or small bodies being crushed. Or all of the above.

One of the teenage girls was already holding our baby, so I was able to start running, but I was nowhere near as fast as the men in the group. Before I could even reach the trail, they were there, and helping the three children who were being attacked by a huge nest of yellow jackets.

My six-year-old , frozen in fear, was getting the worst of it. It was her piercing scream that had first punctured the air. Faster than it seemed possible, our friend Clayton had gotten to her, leaping over a creek and snatching her from near the nest. He literally threw my sturdy, 63-pound child back over the creek to my husband. They moved onto the trail, with my older daughter and another little girl. I got there as they were stripping her down and rushing her further away from the nest. My older daughter and her friend were being attended to by a couple of other people. It was now that I realized it was some sort of stinging insects, and I realized I was completely helpless to do anything  to help my children—I tested allergic to them in my teens, and I’m supposed to carry an Epipen for it.

In another instant, as the rush to get the girls away from the nest continued, the remaining insects began to swarm. I saw a black cloud some yards away, and heard the buzzing of what had to be thousands of angry yellow jackets. “They’re swarming!” someone yelled. “Get to the tents!” I saw that another friend had the baby, and was headed away from the bugs, so I headed for our tent. As I approached it, our oldest, who had already gone to take cover there, came shrieking out of it. She ran to me, and I could see that she was still covered in yellow jackets. They were on her shorts, her shirt, and in her very long hair. “Mommy! Mommy!!!!!!” she cried. My instinct was to help her, but I also was terrified of being stung myself. Another dad in the group was nearby and I shouted at him “Jared! Help her! Take off her clothes! I’m sorry, I’m allergic!” He stripped her down and I got inside the nearby tent where someone had taken the baby.

Things got calmer after that. From inside the tent, I could see my husband and some of the others taking care of both our girls. I could hear the anguished wails of my middle daughter. They stopped counting her stings at thirty. My husband had about ten; my oldest had eight. The other little girl had two or three. Some of the other adults had five or so.  I could do nothing but listen and ache to be near them.

When it finally seemed safe to get out of the tents, I went to them. It was around then that someone mentioned Clayton. I didn’t realize until this point that he had gone straight into the area of the nest to get the children out. “How is he?” I asked.

“Pretty bad,” they said. “He’s in the shower. They got him pretty bad.”

Pretty bad, indeed. My six-year-old wanted to see him as soon as possible to thank him. At first, he seemed okay, and felt better after his shower. But as the minutes passed, he started to swell. He developed welts in places he wasn’t stung. The nurse in the group looked distressed, and soon sent him and his wife off to town to go to the ER. We prayed and waited to hear word.

Finally his wife texted the only one of us who had cell service, that he was hooked up to an IV and was getting steroids. He arrived back at camp several hours later, less puffy but clearly drained. By this point, the children he had helped were a little itchy and swollen, but after some Benadryl, also ready to eat burgers and s’mores and settle in for another night of camping.

I was, and still am, in a place of extraordinary gratitude to God for watching over our children that day, for giving them Clayton and the other adults who flew to their rescue, and for sparing them from any long term damage, or worse. I also have been pondering since shortly after that incident, the question of, how do you adequately thank someone who saves your child’s life?  If she’d continued to be the target of an attack that vicious, it’s entirely possible that we’d be planning a funeral today, and not her birthday party.

The bottom line is, nothing seems enough. Clayton, a father of four himself, dashed in to a very dangerous situation to save a child who was helpless in the face of extreme danger. When he got to her, she was frozen, mouth agape, screaming, while being stung repeatedly. Did you know yellow jackets leave a scent on the mark of their fury, signaling that others should attack there, too? She needed rescue. She needed it fast and she needed it desperately. He put his own well-being aside to help a small, weak, human, and ended up taking the brunt of the pain in return.

Sound familiar?

I was not the direct recipient of the saving in this case, but I can’t shake the feeling of helplessness that I experienced in not being able to aide my own children. And nothing—except our condition outside of Christ— compares to how truly helpless the children were to get out of danger. They couldn’t save themselves. But someone paid a price to get them out of harms way.


Picture

My daughters and their friends posing with a hero.
“He saw me plunged in deep distress
And flew to my relief;
For me He bore the shameful cross
And carried all my grief,
And carried all my grief.”
—Samuel Stennett

In the stillness of the nights since then, as I nurse the smallest of my children, those words from “Majestic Sweetness” have resounded in my head. My savior saw the deep distress I was—we are— in without him. He recognized my complete inability to save myself from my sin, from my own stumbling ways, and from the attacks of the devil. And before I even realized I needed him, he gave up Heaven to come down and save me from it, at the cost of his own life.  I can have only reaction—I have been completely humbled by my Lord’s sacrifice, and I am forever grateful.

Saturday night, knowing that Clayton had spent the day in the hospital and that he had paid his own very steep price to help her, I noticed that my daughter could hardy look him in the eye. She’s a smart kid, and I think she knew to a degree what he had done to help her. And she knows she can’t do anything to help him back. But I know she is grateful, as am I, and that we always will be.

So much more I must show my gratitude and service to the one who paid the ultimate price for my distress. When my soul is in danger, when I am under attack, he is there for me. Always. And for that, I am eternally humbled, and grateful, and ready to serve.

“Since from His bounty I receive
Such proofs of love divine,
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
Lord, they should all be Thine,
Lord, they should all be Thine.”

Must Hymns Be Scriptural?

stevewolfgang:

Carl Peterson kicks off a series about questions we should be asking and contemplating regarding our worship to God in song.

Originally posted on Strains Divine:

I sometimes wonder if song/worship leaders should be giving the same disclaimer as preachers: “Compare the songs we sing to the Scriptures. You’d be my friend if you let me know if anything we’ve sung is out of harmony with the word of God.” 

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God of the Living, in Whose Eyes

God of the Living, in Whose Eyes

stevewolfgang:

Carl Peterson on John Ellerton – worth reading!

Originally posted on Strains Divine:

When the hymnal Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (PHASS) was published in 2012 by Sumphonia Productions, it introduced to its users a number of texts which had not been available previously in hymnals commonly in circulation among its primary audience. Some of these were more recent texts that had not yet had opportunity to do so (or had not been sought out until this publication); others were much older, going back 100 years or more, that for various reasons had never penetrated “the brotherhood.”

One such hymn (to my knowledge and ability to research) is “God of the Living, in Whose Eyes.” The text was written by John Ellerton, whose hymn, “The Day Thou Gavest,” is well regarded in some quarters and has appeared in brotherhood hymnals since at least Jorgensen’s Great Songs of the Church (both editions). The tune used in PHASS was composed by C. E. Couchman in 2011, presumably…

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How To Sell A Lie

This blog – as well as the Facebook Page to which it is connected – is generally A Politics-Free Zone. But since this is an Election Year in the Virtuous Wonderland that is Illinois politics (only three of four recent governors – bipartisan – have served time in prison) and in other places where corruption is Officially Unknown, it is increasingly difficult to ignore – especially in the Political Paradise known as Chicago.

So please forgive the irresistible urge to record a few Obvious Observations on how it is so easy to foist off on an Unsuspecting Population any Demonstrable Untruth deemed Necessary. And since this is normally a space devoted to Matters Religious and Historical, I should note that, Historically, these tactics have worked just about as well in the Religious Realm.

So, How does one Sell A Lie?

First, Give The Lie a Make-Over. Shave off a corner or three. File off some rough edges. Shampoo it. Apply a bit of polish. The Base (the core of True Believers in The Lie) will still recognize The Lie and support it – even in a Slightly Modified form. They will understand the need for Perfumers and Costumers in order to make it more palatable to the Great Unwashed Masses who are not yet Wise Enough to accept The Lie as the Truth.

Create Plausible Deniability. Cleaning It Up and Watering It Down also creates numerous opportunities to negate criticism of The Lie and its Guardians. To obfuscate, even. No, we didn’t really mean to say that. Someone mis-spoke. Mistakes were made. You MisUnderstood (read: Opponents of the Lie are really not Smart Enough to understand it – poor souls).

Cry Foul and Claim Misinterpretation. Cover your own fabrications with allegations of the same. Tu Quoque to you too, buddy. Misquote. Omit significant details. Launch a few ad hominem arguments.

Construct Emotional Cover. A sick child. A disabled husband. A crippling disease. A dead pet, even. Anything will do, really, if it generates enough Emotional Resonance for many in The Audience to give the perpetrator A Pass Due To Overwhelming Grief – justification for even the most outrageous statements in support of The Lie. Or crafting the demolition of any who dare challenge it.

Demonize the Opposition. They’re not Really interested in enforcing the law, or seeing that rules are applied fairly. They’re just Nasty, Shrewd, and Brutish. Interested only with the Wanton Destruction of Innocent Bystanders. Devilish. Klutzes in Satan’s Service.

Proclaim Yourself Under Attack. Then declare yourself Exhausted from the Herculean Effort and Unable To Continue. Take yourself off the air (and/or Social Media) for at least a day and a half. It’s sure to generate sympathy and support – maybe even more financial contributions.

Form a Committee of the Committed to Run Interference. The Lie will go so much farther with an Army of Enablers who are much more concerned with correcting anyone with the audacity to criticize, than with worrying about whether The Lie might in fact be, well, Untrue. Counterfactual, even. Maybe downright False. If you can’t produce an angry Mama Bear type, protecting her poor li’l cubbies, maybe just an Outraged Friend or 2nd cousin, preferably with all the personality of a wounded rhinoceros, may do in a pinch. If all else fails, a pack of hyenas should suffice.

Utilize Overheated Rhetoric. Dark Forces are working to silence The Truth of The Lie. Opponents are perpetrating the most Critical and Devious Assault on Motherhood and Apple Pie since, ummm, at least last quarter. Invoke the wrath of the Almighty. We Stand At Armageddon, And We Do Battle For The Lord.

Stage It Professionally. Good video is absolutely essential — steady pans, tight shots on the featured heroes — and don’t neglect the music, building to a conclusive climax. If funding is an issue, borrow the semi-professional Praise Team (and their backing band) from the local megachurch — call it “grassroots” to make it sound chic.

But perhaps this overstates matters. Maybe I should retract what I said about such tactics working in the Religious Realm as well as for Politicos. We all know Christians would never do such things – right?

Where Were You?

stevewolfgang:

Re-blogging from 9-11 last year – a perpetual anniversary, and another date which shall live In infamy.

Originally posted on ἐκλεκτικός:

Numerous posts on Facebook and other social media by friends (virtual and real-life ones) have asked, “What were you doing on 9/11?”

I was prepping to lecture to my Tuesday classes at the University of Kentucky – History of Journalism (JOU 535) and an introductory survey section of HIS 109 – grappling with Reconstruction (which A. Lincoln called the greatest challenge ever presented to practical statesmanship) and the aftermath of the Civil War (stagger your imagination by thinking of the loss 9/11 EVERY Tuesday for four years).

After a brief lecture, I let the students, disturbed and full of emotion (as we all were) talk and ask questions – “Does this mean we are at war?” or “how could this happen?!” – and then dismissed to gather around the TV sets tuned to news broadcasts all over campus. Many of the History of Journalism students (and I) were scheduled to…

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