"Battle of the Bulge": An Enduring Perspective Born from Gritty WWII Service
Lopez, Ed, Soldiers Magazine
FROZEN legs, captivity during war, and a hunger-driven scramble to gather scattered pieces of bread on the ground are just some of the mental snapshots that William Schuchert still holds from his days as a young Soldier during World War 11.
Because of medical problems caused by prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures in foxholes, Schuchert's legs were amputated below the knees six years ago. Today, the 85-year-old resident of Middletown, N.J., uses a cane and artificial limbs to maneuver.
As a young Soldier in Europe in 1944, Schuchert had already seen the Army medics twice to treat his frozen limbs. He was scheduled to see the medics a third time, but a significant event that day spoiled his plans.
Seeking to neutralize the advancing Allied forces, Adolph Hitler launched a major offensive thrust that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. As a member of the 28th Infantry Division, Schuchert and his fellow Soldiers were in the direct path of the surprise German assault that began at 5:30 a.m., Dec. 16, 1944.
Instead of seeing Army medics, Schuchert became a prisoner of war.
"We were one of the first ones they hit," he remembered. "They hit us, bypassed us and we were surrounded by all of the Germans. Our captain decided that it was better to surrender than to die."
Schuchert remembered the dire warning to Army prisoners from their captors. "The Germans used to tell us, 'If one escapes, we're going to shoot you all."'
Originally from West Mifflin, Pa., southeast of Pittsburgh, Schuchert was drafted into the Army when he was 18 years old. His outfit, the 28th Infantry Division, was nicknamed the "Bloody Bucket" division because of the division's red, keystone-shaped insignia. It was also the Army division in the movie "When Trumpets Fade," about the battle in the Huertgen Forest.
Schuchert recounted his experiences recently after watching a theatrical play with a World War II-era theme staged at Brookdale Community College at Lincroft, N.J. This year is the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the storming of beaches by Allied forces in Normandy, France, to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation.
Even before he was captured on the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, Schuchert had a variety of harrowing experiences when his division was deployed to the Huertgen Forest, located along the border between Belgium and Germany.
"The Germans used to shell us just about the time we were eating," he recalled with a laugh. "Just to make it so that we didn't get a warm meal."
Typically, there were about six men in each foxhole, which was covered with tree branches to protect the Soldiers from shrapnel and debris. "At night it would get about 30 to 40 degrees below zero," he said. "I had my feet frozen twice."
Because enemy shelling could be constant for six or seven days at a time, Soldiers were reluctant to leave their foxholes. Schuchert remembered that they would take turns leaving their shelter to fill the canteens of those who stayed in the foxhole.
"I went out one day to the usual place where we got water and saw three dead Germans in the water," Schuchert said.
"I went down further and found a place to fill up the canteens. I came back and was only about 20 feet away from the foxhole when the Germans started shelling. The shrapnel broke the wooden stock of my rifle in half and blew the top off my canteen."
Under such perilous conditions, the Soldiers quickly developed tight personal bonds. …