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Local vets remember Battle of Bulge on its anniversary
Photo provided - Three of the Marysville Men of the legendary Ninth Armored Division pause for a photo, circa 1943. From left, they are Bus Surman, Bob O'Connell and Tom Surman. During the Battle of the Bulge, the Ninth outdueled the German's best guns in the deep snow of the Ardennes Forest in sub-zero temperatures.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the conclusion of Battle of the Bulge. It was the largest land battle the United States fought in World War II, involving over 1.1 million men — 600,000 Americans, 500,000 Germans and 55,000 Britsh.

The battle was also the costliest to the U.S., in terms of loss, with 81,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed in action and 23,500 captured. The Germans sustained 100,000 casualties, killed, wounded or captured.

From Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 28, 1945, the Allies repelled Hitler's last stand — an intensive 50-mile-wide thrust from the Rhine River into the Ardennes Forest, creating what looked like a "bulge" back into Belgium and Luxembourg.

In sub-zero temperatures and two feet of snow, the battles raged for five weeks along the German-Belgium border, with thousands of American doughboys losing toes and fingers to frostbite.

Here is a brief account of some the actions and memories of several local veterans who participated in that epic battle 60 years ago.

Tim Babcock, former governor of Montana, was with the 99th Division, 394th Regiment, B Battalion, E Company. Babcock's outfit bore the brunt of the northern attack and held the German thrust at the Elsenborn Bridge. After the Bulge, he was the recipient of the Bronze Star at the Remagen Bridge, where "Private First Class Babcock braved murderous automatic weapons fire in his determination to secure the aid of the adjacent squad in freeing his own unit," his citation reads. "He led them to the enemy's flank and directed the annihilation of the hard-fighting group."

Herb Ballou was an infantryman with the 70th Infantry Division, which captured the Schlossberg Castle, in what was later known as the Battle of the Tower. Ballou was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, after being hit by a grenade, which cost him the sight of his right eye.

Jesse Long served with the Second Armored Division, which moved from the north on Dec. 22, to where the Germans had broken through the lines near Ciney, Belgium.

"We remained engaged with the Nazis until they were cut off and most of them captured," Long related. "The Second Division moved back to our original positions by Jan. 16, 1945."

Charles "Chick" Gage was a member of the 492nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion, which was part of the 11th Armored Division. The 11th Armored was assigned to defend the Neufchateau-Bastogne road near Remagne, and then helped spearhead the Third Army's drive northeast to link up with the First Army. In 11 days of firing beginning on Dec. 31, the 492nd spent 25,000 rounds of ammunition against the Nazis.

Walt Stromberg was part of Patton's Third Army, 358th battalion, Love Co., 90th Infantry Division. The 90th joined the fray near Wiltz, Luxembourg.

"After Bastogne, we were being shelled by mortar fire," Stromberg said, "and a hunk of shrapnel landed right between me and another guy. Another time we just stepped outside a bunkhouse in a village when a Panzer came around the corner and fired a shot at us, but the shell skimmed off the roof without exploding."

Bill Coldiron and Ed Gilleran served together in the 116th AAA gun battalion, whose big 90mm guns slugged it out with the Germans in the Ardennes Forest. Gilleran, who was from New York, and Coldiron, from Kentucky, both ended up in Helena.

The Marysville Five Plus One were part of the renowned Ninth Armored Division. They were so named because five were from Marysville (Bob O'Connell, brothers Bus and Tom Surman, Ray Smigaj and Rog Williams) and one was a Helenan (Carl Strandberg).

At the Battle of the Bulge, "combat teams from the outfit held the elbow of the German bulge in Luxembourg and barred the way to the city until relieved," according to Stars and Stripes Magazine. "For 10 wild days, sleep was confounded by Benzedrine sulfate tablets. In at least one instance, nobody told the doughs to pull out, so they stayed and fought until word got through. The Combat A team delayed the German steamroller for 48 hours, enabling the 101st Airborne to dig in the defenses at Bastogne."

The Ninth Armored Combat A eventually received the nation's highest military award for exceptional valor, the Presidential Unit Citation, for "stalling Hitler's all-or-nothing attack through the frozen Ardennes Forest."

Bill Lovelady was assigned to 740th Separate Tank Battalion, which supported the 119th Infantry. On Dec. 16, 1944, his outfit was stranded in Neufchateau, Belgium, just southwest of Aachen, without equipment.

"We acquired what we needed from an abandoned warehouse," Lovelady wrote. "Soldiers in Iraq were recently court-martialed for doing the same thing."

John Harrison, a longtime judge, served with the 7 th Corps Headquarters. Harrison helped work on the Malmady Massacre case, after the Germans killed 86 American prisoners.

"I had two jobs; investigating war atrocities and staying alive," Harrison said. "It was so cold, we warmed up by keeping our backs to fire of burning houses."

Bill Hunt was in communications with the 3053rd Engineer Combat Battalion and the 1186 Engineer Combat Group. They were also used as infantry to assist the Ninth Army before transferring to assist the British Army under Montgomery.

Hunt said his outfit encountered German patrols and received fire from Nazi buzz bombs near Bastogne.

Merle Rognrud served with the 980th Signal Service Co., Signal Corps. He helped run the radio station up on a hill a short distance away from Third Army headquarters.

Rognrud recalls that the Germans had infiltrated their territory posing in U.S. uniforms and speaking English, and that everyone was on careful alert to make sure they weren't fooled by the Nazis.

Ken Yahvah, who was with an engineering group associated with the First Canadian Army, said that he met his future wife in Antwerp.

"When we captured the Autobahn Highway, I watched a mile-long procession of tanks, two abreast, rolling for Frankfurt," Babcock said. "I'll never forget thinking, ‘This war is over!'"

Following is a list of other local veterans, who were either from the Helena area or moved here after the war, who served in the Battle of the Bulge (some of whom lost their lives there):

Rich Barnett, James Bertogio, Stuart Bethel, Harold Bomar, Edwin Booth, Frank Brownback, Lou Bretzke, Hugh C. Butler, Charlie Caudill, Clement P. Chovanak, Wayne E. Cox, Forrest Clark, Maurice L. Dineen Jr., Jack Dorner, Leighton "Pee Wee" Eathorne, Emil Eschenburg.

Joe Goldes, Lavell Gould, Harold Grant, Robert E. Hall, Bert Halverson, Norvel "Nog" Hansen, Lewis Hilger, Matthew Hilger, David Hoffman, John Horton, Evan Jarosh, Lowell Johnson, Wayne Jones, Bob Kierstead, Darroll Knudson, George E. Lee, Neil MacLean, Thomas McKelvey, John J. McKinnon, Frank McKnight.

W.F. Meier, Robert G. Meredith, Joe Meyer, Raymond B. Miller, Bill Millington, Jack Mitschke, Ken Moore, Harry Morgan, Joe Mudd, Howard O'Connell, Paul Paulsen, Ludwig Rigler, Ray Roberts, Milt Rudio, Howard Schneckloth, Delwyn Silver, Stan Smazal, Roy Stith, W.H. Tipton, George "Bud" Tobol, John Toole, Chick Upman, Sophie G. Valle, John R. Vierack, Merritt N. Warden.

CURT SYNNESS was an IR paperboy (1965-68) and is a Navy vet (1970-74). To make corrections or additions to the Battle of the Bulge list, call 449-2150 or e-mail curt52s@msn.com.

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