Christmas in Bastogne, 1944

On Christmas in 1944, over 70 years ago, American forces stopped a last ditch counterattack by the German army aimed at stopping the allied efforts to retake Europe from Nazi control. This is historically known as the “Battle of the Bulge” and has been immortalized in books and movies. This event is memorable as an episode of the amazing heroism of the soldiers who gave their lives in defense not just of the United States, but really of Western civilization, but it has important lessons for today.

The message of the Allied Brigadier General AC McAuliffe who was the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division defending the besieged town of Bastogne fully captures the setting of these famous events. McAuliffe writes to his troops, “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne” as they are famously remembered the following message:

Headquarters 101st Airborne Division
Office of the Division Commander
24 December 1944
What’s Merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting – it’s cold – we aren’t home. All true but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. We have identifications from four German Panzer Divisions, two German Infantry Divisions and one German Parachute Division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were headed straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Division’s glorious history but in World history. The Germans actually did surround us. Their radios blared our doom. Their Commander demanded our surrender in the following impudent arrogance.

December 22nd 1944
To the U. S. A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U. S. A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hombres Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.
There is only one possibility to save the encircled U. S. A. Troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.
If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U. S. A. Troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this Artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.

The German Commander

The German Commander received the following reply:

22 December 1944
To the German Commander:
The American Commander

Allied Troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General Taylor, will say: Well Done!
We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.
A. C. McAuliffe

The message is that somehow even when things appear hopeless, a way can be found with God’s help. Good can prevail over evil. We live in difficult times; there is a lot to be concerned about, whether it’s the spread of radical jihadist groups abroad and terrorism at home, or the advance of an anti-Christian secularism that seeks to ghettoize religious belief at home. On a personal level there are countless individual challenges people may face, illness, financial struggles, the deaths of loved ones, and on and on…
Through it all however the message of Christmas is that God has entered the world and become one of us, like us in all things but sin. He came to redeem us from the ultimate source of all evil which is sin, and because of that there is hope.
Part of that hope is the realization that we can find a Merry Christmas if we focus on what we can do for others. McAuliffe’s sent his troops a message than in spite of the very difficult circumstances they found themselves in, 71 years ago, they could consider Christmas “Merry”, because of the “gallant feat of arms” they were engaged in at the service of their countrymen. It is our hope at Catholic X-ray, that regardless of the reader’s circumstances you might find a way to help someone else, and have a Merry and Holy Christmas and a Happy New Year.



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