Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Candle

Hubble Photo in the Public Domain
I have lost my beloved friend and mentor Buck Pennington.

He of the proper grammar and always knowing where the comma is supposed to go.

Buck never let me rest with the idea of what I had written, he was always on me to correct something. As he would often put it, "...ever the pedant..."

I cannot begin to tell you just how much I am going to miss that.

Buck followed my blog from day one, here's the first of his many comments:
Lex was my blog-father. I first contacted him back in 2004 simply to express my thanks thanks for what he was doing with his blog. One thing led to another and I started EIP in 2005 with his encouragement. The man was more than a blogger, more than a Nasal Radiator, he was bigger than life in more ways than one. We do miss him.
Which is a roundabout way of sayin' "Welcome to the club," Sarge. Keep on keepin' on!
Buck too, was larger than life.

If you have the inclination, head on over to his place, pay your respects and, if you have the time, read some of his other posts. It's well worth the trip and the effort.

Buck was fond of the phrase, "the Deity at hand," as a Buddhist he probably believed the following:
One fundamental belief of Buddhism is often referred to as reincarnation -- the concept that people are reborn after dying. In fact, most individuals go through many cycles of birth, living, death and rebirth. A practicing Buddhist differentiates between the concepts of rebirth and reincarnation. In reincarnation, the individual may recur repeatedly. In rebirth, a person does not necessarily return to Earth as the same entity ever again. He compares it to a leaf growing on a tree. When the withering leaf falls off, a new leaf will eventually replace it. It is similar to the old leaf, but it is not identical to the original leaf.
After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. This is a state of liberation and freedom from suffering. (S)
As a Christian, my beliefs differ somewhat. But having lived in many places and known many people different from me, I can only say with certainty that we cannot begin to understand our Universe and all that occurs therein. As The Bard said,
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
All I know for certain at this time, is that I have lost a dear friend and brother-in-arms. While I mourn his loss and my heart goes out to his family, I celebrate his life and I thank my God that I knew such a man.

I like to think that Buck has attained Nirvana, what we Christians call Heaven. I cannot believe for one instant that a man such as Buck would be turned away. He brought joy and wisdom to many.

To quote the Buddha,
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, 
and the life of the candle will not be shortened. 
Happiness never decreases by being shared.
Buck was a candle.

Vaya con Dios, mi amigo!

We shall meet again, in the hereafter.

Tell Lex we say hi.

I love you Buck. I miss you.

Scenes of The Nativity

Nativity Scene - Christkindl market Chicago
by Túrelio CC
Every year around this time there always seems to be some controversy over displays commemorating the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This sort of thing was almost unheard of when I was a kid. Now it happens every year. That sickens me.

There are also public menorah displays to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, there are some who protest that as well. Again, that sickens me.

Most of those protests are by atheists. Those who do not believe in a higher power. Those who have rejected God. I pity them.

Often these protesters cite "the separation of church and state in the Constitution." Sorry ee-jits, here's what the Constitution has to say about religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. First Amendment to the Constitution
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. Article VI of the Constitution
These are the only references to religion that I can find in the Constitution. There is no constitutionally mandated "separation of church and state" and it seems to me that the intent of the Founders was to tell future governments to back off when it comes to religion. A government order to remove a Nativity scene from any property, public or private, is a direct violation of the Constitution. (Don't bother to mention the Supreme Court in the comments in this regard. Those political appointees lost my respect and any credibility they may have had, long ago. Go look up Dred Scott.)

Then there is the Declaration of Independence...
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
So to me, it's pretty clear that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. By men (and yes, women) who firmly believed in God. While we're at it, let's throw some numbers out there.


Source: ARDA

Seems that the majority of Americans believe in God. Yes, there seems to be a disturbing upward trend in the number of unbelievers but still, most of us believe in a Supreme Being. 

Far too often I think we let the extremists in this country drive the agenda. Now I'm not one to shove my religion down anyone's throat, it is, after all, a free country. If you don't want to worship, you don't have to. But I fail to see how a display representing the birth of the Messiah or a menorah celebrating the Festival of Lights impinges on anyone's so-called "rights."

Now if it's a huge display with lots of bright lights and booming music, yeah I can see how that might annoy the neighbors. But most of these displays are not like that at all. So how are they bothering anyone but the most extreme fanatics who have some sort of political ax to grind?

Drive on, don't look, get over yourself.

I have no quarrel with those who don't believe, I have pity for them, but I'm not going to try and make them believe what I believe. I expect that they should return the favor.

At Christmas and Hanukkah, let us have our displays and pretty lights.

Oh, one last thing, it's "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah," it's not happy holidays. Though they are holidays and we do like to be happy at this time of year, stuff your political correctness. If you're offended, too bad, sucks to be you, etc., etc.

Hands off my Christmas traditions and hands off the Hanukkah traditions of my Jewish friends. Most of us love this stuff and this time of year. Those who don't, be patient, you'll have all of Eternity to celebrate being separated from the Light.

And that's...

Dorfkrippe Baumkirchen
by Haneburger GFDL

Friday, December 19, 2014

That Last Friday

It's that last Friday before Christmas.

A day I start looking forward to around September.

A day I start to count down to sometime in November.

It's the last day I have to work before the holidays.

My company shuts down between Christmas and New Year's. We skip five regular holidays in order to do that. (So they say. I know of companies who take all of the Federal holidays off and shut down at Christmas. Obviously these are not companies in retail. If they shut down at Christmas, it's permanent. Know what I mean?)

So when some folks are having a three day weekend, I'm driving to work on a Monday wondering where all the traffic is. Until someone at work mentions that their spouse is off that day because it's a holiday.

No big deal, I like having an entire week off at Christmas. In fact, I have learned to save a few vacation days each year so that I can have TWO weeks off at Christmas. (Greedy, neh?)

But the last couple of weeks leading up to that last Friday before Christmas can really drag. I don't sleep well, trying to get last minute bits of work done, listening to The Missus Herself stress about holiday shopping and all that tends to really wear my aging self out.

I start to feel like an old diesel submarine that's been depth charged and submerged too long. The batteries are running low, dangerously low. I need to get to the surface and run the diesels to recharge those batteries. But I have to wait a bit longer. Just a bit...

USS Porpoise (SS-172), 20 July 1944
Public Domain

But it's that last Friday.

According to the chronometer, it's just past sunset. Sonar indicates that the screw noises of that tin can that just worked us over are fading. The crew is stirring.

"Prepare to surface!"

It's that last Friday before Christmas.

For two weeks I'm foot loose and fancy free.

No work to do.

No need to get up early.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

War may be politics by other means, but so is military acquisition.

When I left active duty, I accepted a civilian job working in the Navy's Mine Warfare (MIW) field.  No, not a minefield, but close.  This is very different from my previous career in Naval Aviation, but not too different considering a couple of non-flying jobs I had.  During my “Joint” tour, which has nothing to do with California's favorite recreational herb, I served as an Exercise Planner and the Readiness Officer for US Central Command in Tampa Florida.  A joint job is at a Combatant Command where all four services are represented.  Maybe 5- I think we had a Coastie or two running around. 

As the Readiness Officer, I coordinated with all the Task Force and Functional Component Commanders under CENTCOM to put together a bi-annual report to the Joint Staff, which was many pages of me complaining about all our shortfalls.  Each deficiency then listed what “stuff” we needed to improve those capability gaps.  This was in the mid-2000s, and we were just starting to realize how difficult it was to simultaneously fight an insurgent force and nation-build at the same time, so that report was long.  We pretty-much got everything we asked for back then- Counter IED equipment and jammers?  Check.  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for ISR?  But you’ve got every Global Hawk and Predator we own.  “Ok, then we need more- everything you have is still not enough.” An Admiral who I came across later in my career was familiar with my reports and told me that within the Pentagon, they thought that CENTCOM was like a fat crying baby in the corner, everybody feeds it, but it still cries and so it keeps getting fed more and more.

During the next tour, after deploying on the USS PELELIU (LHA-5), I ran an annual conference to develop a “Top-10” list of stuff the Amphib Navy needed to support Naval Aviation. 

Three Minesweepers underway.  Must be an old picture.
My current work is similar- I keep track of the problems faced by our legacy MIW force and work to bring about the next generation of systems to improve our MCM capability, advocating for another list of "stuff."  By “Legacy” force, I’m talking about the AVENGER-Class Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Ships, and MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopters.  These ships and aircraft are aging and oft-broken.  Heck, they aren’t aging, they’re already OLD, and by old, I’m talking like 210 in dog-years.  30 years is the average lifespan of a Navy ship, but that’s the average for an average ship- Cruisers (CGs), Destroyers (DDGs), and Frigates (FFGs).  That doesn’t include our Aircraft Carriers of course, which are built and maintained to last into their 50’s, but I digress.  The MCM ships and MH-53s are far from “average” because the level of support they receive doesn’t make it a level playing field.  Average would mean something that the Navy cared about, like a front-line ship or aircraft.  Our MCM "stuff" came out in the 80’s to early 90’s and has never gotten the care and feeding it deserves, so the ships and aircraft look very tired and worn out.  The oldest of the ships, which have already been decommissioned, were about 30 years old, but looked far worse.  If you want to keep something nice, you have to take care of it.

We're spending a lot of money to maintain these boats, but they still look a bit strung out, and rehab can only do so much.  Think of a 30 year old Buick - any chance of it still running if you didn’t maintain it well when it was younger?  And good luck finding parts for it.  All those shipyards are long gone by the way. It's the same for our helicopters.  They were taken care of a bit better than the ships, but the mishap rate has been less than good over the past few years.

MH-53E Sea Dragon conducting magnetic sweep with the Mk-105 sled.

MIW is just one of those warfare areas that big Navy doesn't really pay attention to.  It’s a matter of priorities, with Air Warfare, Surface and Anti-Submarine Warfare always being at the top of that list, and maybe rightly so.  Is MIW next in line? Well, yes, after Ballistic Missile Defense, Special Operations, EOD, Cyber-Warfare, and publicly reporting the latest CO firing.  The Navy has always found it easy to defer and delay maintenance to ships that don't have CV, SS, DDG or CG in their designation, and hardly any of those letters are in MCM.  The fact that there were only 14 of the ships, and 30 of the helos makes MIW even more of a bastard stepchild.  MIW is just one of those warfare areas that you don’t need, or at least you don't think you need, until you really need it.  So it’s been easy to underfund, especially with all these expensive wars going on. I could get all snarky here and complain about CVNs, CGs, and DDGs asking those crews when was the last time they actually did any real Anti-Air or Anti-Surface Warfare, but I’d be digressing.  MIW might not be a cool, sexy mission area like the others, but if one insurgent terrorist fisherman drops a cheap drifting mine in the gulf, just watch what happens to the price of oil.  And I was so enjoying gas under $3 a gallon.

So when the old stuff is gone, we’ll have a cool new sexy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) with a bunch of critters doing MCM.  The ship isn’t going into the minefield, but some unmanned systems will.  The ship has has it’s fair share of problems throughout its development, with both mechanical issues and some horrible press.  The LCS has also had more than its fair share of political opponents.  Nevermind that it was a political decision to build two different LCS classes, keeping two shipyards fully employed, but that was a different politician.

I know some of the bad press is deserved- we buy a brand new ship that was very late to the showroom, way over-priced, and it breaks down minutes after we drive it off the lot- that's not good. But many of our weapon systems have had problems during development and tended to be a wee bit more expensive than the lying liars in the defense industry told us they would be.  One of these, which also helped accelerate the S-3B Viking Sundown, was the Super Hornet, which had a serious wing-stall problem until the wing pylon stations were redesigned.  Remember the MV-22 Osprey? That one killed a bunch of good Marines before we got the bugs worked out of that program.  Now, both aircraft are vital to the Navy-Marine Corps team and are doing a great job.

As will this one if it gets the chance:

It really deserves to.  The LCS is a great concept- build a ship from an existing commercial design (the trimaran LCS-2) that can have its mission packages swapped out depending on what we need it to do.  And if technology advances, we don't need to send the ship into drydock, or take it off the schedule for an extended yard period in order to upgrade the systems- just swap out the boxes. Sure, it's expensive, but that price would have come down (it already was) as we committed to more ships and stabilized the design.  It was supposed to be a much cheaper ship though, until the Defense Industrial Complex and the Navy's Acquisition Process got a hold of it. And it's not like other systems haven't had massive cost over-runs.  Anybody ever hear of the F-35 and CVN-78?

But the voices of all the detractors rose to a cacophony, and enough of them found the ears of Secretary of Defense Hagel.  Because of all the bad press, and stronger political voices than the ones that chose to buy the LCS, SECDEF decided earlier this year to hold the planned number of ships to 32 (from the original 52) as we evaluate the design.
“I am concerned that the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers. Therefore, no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward...”
Hagel has instead directed the Navy to, “submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.”
The Navy is to consider options that would include, “a completely new design, existing ship designs and a modified LCS. These proposals are due to me later this year in time to inform next year’s budget submission.”

Then on Dec 10th, Secretary Hagel made these remarks updating DoD's plan for the LCS.  I'll summarize the one page memo:  "We're done with it."
I approve your plan to procure a small surface combatant (SSC) based on an upgraded Flight 0+ LCS, and direct the following actions to be taken:
  • Develop an Acquisition Strategy to support design and procurement of new SSCs no later than Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 19), and sooner if possible. Provide this Acquisition Strategy to the USD(AT&L) for review and approval no later than May 1, 2015.
Holy Fast Frigates Batman!  We're going to supposedly design and build a new ship in 5 years?  So instead of a light and fast modular ship, we're going to start buying Frigates again, and quickly!  I tend to be a bit cynical, and expect that a bigger, heavier, more traditional ship will make somebody a ton of money, and that probably won't be the Australian company that is building the LCS-2 Independence Class.

If any procurement program in recent history offers any sort of indication as to whether that is possible, please let me know and I'll stop this blog post right now...

Anyone?  Nah, I didn't think so.

Captain John Paul Jones

Hagel must have read the quote by CAPT John Paul Jones-
"I wish to have no connection with any Ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way."
One of the complaints of the mainly aluminum LCS (2), is that it supposedly can't survive in combat. Although it can definitely get there quickly.  MCM is mainly conducted in or close to enemy waters, but we rarely, if ever, operate in contested waters.  And what the hell do people think our 30 year old minesweepers are made of?  Steel?  Nope, guess again.  Good old homegrown American timber; typically oak, Douglas-fir, or Nootka Cypress - coated in glass-reinforced plastic.  Not exactly bulletproof.  And did I mention that the LCS doesn't even go into the minefield!?

Navy leadership has accepted his decision almost without argument.  I would rather they adhere to the quote by CAPT James Lawrence:
"Don't give up the ship!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Void

A star forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, perhaps the closest Galaxy to Earth's Milky Way.
NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team, Public Domain
As you can see, there is a lot going on in that photo. Magnificent isn't it?

The wonders of Creation laid out for us to see.

Unfortunately, the Tiny Cranial Cloud (the post forming region in my brain) is devoid of any activity this AM.

Believe me, I thought long and hard (well, okay, long) about what to write about last night and went to bed with nada, bupkis, rien.
Yup, Nothing. A big, fat zero.

It's as if a great void has formed between my ears and all rational thought has collapsed to a singularity. A very dense singularity.

Who knows, maybe something will spring forth later today. Until then, read those folks over along the starboard rail (the sidebar for you non-nautical types).

Continued prayers for my blog-buddy, mentor and fellow Air Force Master Sergeant Buck, the Exile in Portales. He's in the hospital and it's not good.

Keep him in mind, stop by his place and leave a note. His sons are with him and will let us know as things happen. Prayers for them too. Buck raised a couple of good lads there.

Sarge, out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Festival of Lights

The 8th Night
by Dov Harrington CC
To all of my Jewish brothers and sisters...

Happy Hanukkah!

Die Wacht am Rhein

Elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper advancing in the Ardennes
(United States Army Center of Military History)
At 0530, on the 16th of December, 1944, in the quiet, fog-shrouded hills along the German-Belgian border, the early morning stillness was shattered by incoming fire from 1600 artillery pieces and 955 rocket launchers. The Germans were coming.

The American lines were shattered and confused. This was supposed to be a quiet sector of the front. A place for used up units to recuperate and for green units new to Europe to get a little taste of war.

Three German armies, two Panzer and one infantry lurched out of the forests on the German side of the frontier to give those green units their taste of war. They got more than a taste, the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last throw of the dice in the West, was beginning.

Seventy years ago today, the German 5th and 6th Panzerarmeen and the 7th Armee rolled out of the fog and mist and slammed into the lightly held American line in that area of Belgium and Luxembourg known as the Ardennes. A place once thought to be impassable to armor, which the Germans had disproved in 1940 and were about to disprove again. Difficult for armor yes. Impassable? No.Thousands of American GIs, British Tommies and German Landsers were killed and wounded. Thousands of innocent Belgian civilians lost their lives as well. Many murdered by units of the Waffen SS.

Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch or Guard on the Rhine) is the title of a German patriotic anthem. It was also the German code name for the Ardennes offensive, chosen deliberately to make the Allies think that the Germans were preparing to defend the Rhine. Not attempt to counter-attack in the Ardennes.

The German goal was to drive a wedge between General Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group (which was posted in and south of the Ardennes) and Field Marshal Montgomery's 21st Army Group (north of the Ardennes). After a hole had been punched in the Allied line, the Panzer spearheads were to drive on to Antwerp and cut the 21st Army Group's supply lines.

On paper the plan looked very good. However, the German generals knew that they did not have the necessary strength to make that happen. Most of them felt that reaching the Meuse River was stretching their limited capabilities. But der Führer was insistent. So the attack was planned and the attack was launched.

Google Maps

Back in December of 1998, two of my fellow sergeants approached me about taking a little field trip down to the Ardennes, on or about the actual start date of the battle. The 16th was on a Wednesday, the middle of the work week, so we couldn't swing it that day (for one reason or another). We were able to convince our immediate superiors that we could be spared from our critical NATO duties on the 17th, a Thursday.

So we got up very early on Thursday (well before sunrise) and headed off to Belgium. The following map shows our initial path.

From Geilenkirchen, Germany to Krinkelt, Belgium. About 53 miles.
(Google Maps)

At the border between Germany and Belgium, we stopped at a small crossroads, marked on many maps as the Wahlerscheid Crossroads. Just before the Bulge, the 2nd Infantry Division had been attacking towards that area. The next photo (taken in weather completely different from December of 1944) shows the area of the crossroads from just inside the Belgian border.

Google Street View

To the left in the photo is a feature common to this area, a firebreak. When you have large tracts of forest, you also get forest fires. So, firebreaks. The narrow road is also typical of roads in the Ardennes. This road did have a hard surface in 1944, though I doubt it was in this condition. (Another odd thing, may mean nothing. But go to Google Maps, zoom out to the 100 mile scale and then grab the little street view guy. Top left, in orange on the zoom scale. Grab him and drag him over the map. Notice anything odd about Germany? But, you guessed it, I digress.)

Our first planned stop on the journey was in the twin villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath, near the town center is a memorial to the American 99th Division.

99th Division vehicles moving through Wirtzfeld en route to Elsenborn. Vehicle in foreground belongs to Service Battery, 372nd Field Artillery Battalion. To the right, an M10 tank destroyer covers the column's movement.
US Army Center For Military History)

99th Infantry Division Patch

We paused there, to pay our respects to the men who had gone before. Something we would do many times that day.

The road to Büllingen
(Google Street View)

I remember the view on that road above, the day we were there was overcast. It was not really the mental picture I had of this particular area of the Ardennes. It almost seems like good tank country, but winding roads, muddy fields and long vehicle columns do not make rapid movement very easy. In fact, many accounts of the battle talk about the long columns of German vehicles. Long traffic jams were the norm on the first day of the offensive. Having been there, I can see why.

After some more driving we came to the Baugnez crossroads. To many folks that name does not ring any bells, perhaps because the event which took place there, on 17 December 1944 takes its name from the larger town of Malmedy, not quite a mile north of Baugnez.

Aftermath of the Malmedy Massacre
Public Domain (S)

For reasons which may never really be understood (according to some) on Sunday, 17 December 1944, elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper, an armor-heavy detachment of the 1st SS Panzerdivision came across elements of B Battery of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion negotiating a turn which would take the column to St. Vith.

The SS troops opened fire. destroying the first and last vehicles in the convoy, trapping the remainder. These GIs, with few other options and no means of effectively fighting armored vehicles, surrendered. 
While the German column led by Peiper continued on the road toward Ligneuville, the American prisoners were taken to a field, joined with others captured by the SS earlier in the day. Most of the testimonies provided by the survivors state that about 120 men were gathered in the field. For reasons that remain unclear today, the SS troops suddenly fired on their prisoners with machine guns. (W)
Eighty-four bodies were recovered in January of 1945 when American forces recaptured the area. In addition to these murders, Kampfgruppe Peiper was thought to be responsible for murdering 362 POWs and 111 civilians during its time in the Ardennes.

When we arrived at the memorial to the dead of Malmedy, it was apparent that a ceremony had taken place there that very morning. Fresh wreaths had been laid and as it was the anniversary of the massacre, that made perfect sense. The Belgians in the area do not forget the events of World War II.

The Malmedy Memorial, very close to where the massacre occurred.
(Google Street View)

It was sobering to stand there, now it's just a normal town, with normal people going about their business. 84 Americans lost their lives in an act of senseless violence, in a war most Germans knew was lost, on that very spot. Sobering to reflect on that even now. There is no glory in war, never has been, never will be. But against that monstrous regime the fight was necessary and justified.

Another thing which has always struck me regarding the weather in the opening days of the battle is that everyone pictures lots of snow and cold.

That came later.

American tank destroyers near Werbomont 20 Dec 44
(U.S. Army Photo)
The picture above shows weather very typical of the area in the late fall and early winter. Cold rain, lots of fog and, off the roads, lots and lots of mud.

Having lived not far north of the Ardennes, and having traveled through the Ardennes many times in all four seasons, I can vouch for the rain and the cold. Fog is also a serious problem, visibility can be reduced to yards, even feet.

I have also seen snow in the Ardennes. It is pretty when you're driving down a freshly plowed road in your nice modern car.

Try doing it in an open jeep or truck, with people shooting at you. There is no warm bed at the end of the day, unless you're a rear area type. Nope, you get to sleep in a foxhole. Again, with people trying to kill you.

Seventy years ago today, many American soldiers, some exhausted by the race across France and then the hard slog up to the German border, some brand new, barely out of training, barely off the troop ships, faced the Hell of combat roaring out of a winter's morning.

The blasts of artillery, artificial moonlight provided by searchlights reflected off the low clouds, German infantry (barely visible with their white camouflage) screaming out of the forests to the east, firing as they advanced. All in the cold and the mist.

The war was not over, not by a long shot, but on that day, though many did flee to the east, enough American GIs stood their ground and fought back. delaying the German spearheads long enough for the generals to get reinforcements moving to the front to stem the German tide.

At first many GIs died or were taken prisoner...

American POWs being taken to the rear.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J28619 CC

But in the end, the Germans paid a heavier price.

German soldiers who attempted to storm the 101st Airborne command post in Bastogne, Belgium, lie dead on the ground after they were mowed down by American machine gun fire. The tanks, behind which they were advancing, were knocked out also. This photo was taken while Bastogne was still under siege. (S)

German POW's captured by the U.S. 82nd Airborne division in Belgium
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Within six months the war in Europe would be over. But on this day, seventy years ago, it seemed that the war would never end.

Three members of an American patrol cross a snow covered Luxembourg field on a scouting mission. White bedsheets camouflage them in the snow.
Left to right: Sgt. James Storey, Newman, Ga.; Pvt. Frank A. Fox, Wilmington, Del., and Cpl. Dennis Lavanoha, Harrisville, N.Y. (30 Dec 1944). Lellig, Luxembourg. (S)