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The battle of the bulge (a local perspective)

December 31, 2011
By HOWARD RILEY (hjriley@adelphia.net) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

George Vincent Callaghan was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army; a member of 289th Infantry Regiment who fought through the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

George grew up right down the road from us out here in Harrietstown, one of 14 children of Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Callaghan. He preferred to be called "Vin."

That battle was fought in the Ardennes Mountain region of Belgium that began Dec. 16, 1944 and ended Jan. 25, 1945. The initial incursion of the Germans into the Allies line of defense made a "bulge" in the lines on the military maps, thus the term used for the battle.

Article Photos

Sgt. Callaghan, left, and Sgt. Schear, pictured somewhere in Germany after the Battle of the Bulge.
(Photo provided)

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle fought by the Americans in WWII. There were between 600,000 and 800,000 Americans troops in that battle at any given time. More than 89,000 were killed, wounded or captured. The German causalities were more than 100,000.

When Sgt. Callaghan joined Company M of that Infantry Regiment about Jan. 1, 1945 he had already been awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. The following excerpts are from a very long journal of that battle written by Tom Schear whose life had been saved by Sgt. Callaghan.

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Schear meets Callaghan

"George joined the Second Platoon in a group of replacements for casualties suffered including Jim Foley who was killed on Christmas Eve, 1944.

"From our position the world seemed to be covered by snow. It was terribly cold. The ground was frozen so that it was impossible to dig a proper foxhole. We could only scratch out a spot for cover that left us exposed from the waist up. All one could do was huddle and shiver. Food was what ever cans of frozen C-rations we had.

"George quickly found his place in the Platoon, accepting assignments, helping others where he could, understanding our mission and being a natural good buddy. He was physically very strong and brave.

"We would learn later that George was in his element in the snow and cold. He told stories of his work with giant snow plows on the highways and railroads of the North Country."

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The battle for grandmenil, Belgium

"Our position was on a hill overlooking the village of Grandmenil when orders came for our battalion to attack. We moved down the hill in deep snow carrying our machine guns and motors. When we arrived at the main street of the village, it seemed as if the world was on fire. Exploding shells turned night into day. The sound of firing and exploding shells was deafening. We fought our way up the street, house-by-house. I remember at one point looking across the street and seeing George. He was firing his M-1 rifle; there was a German tank up the street firing and German machine gun positions in houses. It was a brutal situation.

"At last the enemy forces went into retreat and Grandmenil was ours. It was said later in some military circles that the Grandmenil capture was important in that it blunted the German thrust further into Belgian with the resulting of splitting our forces.

"Our company suffered more casualties, frost bite and trench foot added to the problems as the snow and cold never ceased. The days were short and the nights were long. I recall that it became dark about 5 p.m. The snow was often waist deep."

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Christmas dinner in January

"Our platoon was next ordered to move in support of K Company to the Town of Sadzol. Then on to Deigne in a blinding snow storm, next on to Erria to relieve a unit of the 82nd Airborne Division in a defensive position on a high ridge overlooking the towns of Salmchateau and Vielsalm.

"Shortly after Grandmenil on the way to Sadzol the Army decided to serve us the turkey dinner we had missed at Christmas. Our cooks behind the lines prepared turkey and all the 'fixins'. They brought the meal up to us in the snow and set up a chow line. George told me later that he had heard that the cooks in jeeps dodged across a spot targeted for German shellfire. We didn't have messkits and there were no paper plates. Expecting to be in the field on C-rations, we had too much to carry already. So we moved through the line and had our dinner served on anything flat that we could salvage from the jeeps. I sat in a circle with George and some others eating as best we could. We enjoyed the food because it was real."

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(Continued next week when Sgt. Callaghan rescues the wounded Sgt. Schear)

 
 

 

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