The unexpected has great impact. When Adolf Hitler made a last throw of the dice in World War II, it shocked the world, but particularly the American troops hammered by the great surprise attack.
Many of them would die 70 years ago in ferocious battles waged in the snowy Ardennes, a winter battle a month long. The strategic goal of the German offensive was Antwerp, to shut off supplies for the armies that were advancing on Berlin. It failed, at the cost of some 80,000 U.S. casualties.
The Battle of the Bulge will go down in American history as a great comeback made possible by the blood and grit of soldiers thrown into front lines at the last minute. Some of the fierce small-scale fights were hand-to-hand. Some American units were overwhelmed and forced to surrender.
The 101st Airborne and the remains of a few other units were trapped in the critical crossroads of Bastogne. The Germans demanded surrender. “Nuts,” replied Gen. Anthony McAuliffe. It was the Germans who were ultimately driven back, not the Americans.
The anniversary of the great battle comes as the National World War II Museum opened its newest pavilion dedicated to the European and Pacific theater campaigns of the war; its first exhibition is about the long and difficult road to Berlin before the climax of the D-Day landings.
It is one of Louisiana’s treasures that the museum, originally dedicated to D-Day as the vision of the late historian Stephen Ambrose, has expanded its focus and since 2003 has been the national museum commemorating the war.
Louisiana is in constant battles of its own over spending, but very few begrudge the $10 million the state contributed for the new pavilion, opened this year by Gov. Bobby Jindal and many other dignitaries. It is not only a stirring experience but a tremendous draw for visitors to Louisiana all year long.
The completion of the museum in 2017 will provide an extraordinary educational insight into the vast implications of World War II, at home and abroad.
But it is a history commemorated because of the sacrifices of the GIs fighting this month in the snowy hills 70 years ago. Only an estimated 1 million of the 16 million Americans who served in uniform still survive.
God bless the victors, and their sacrifices, as well as the dwindling number of survivors among us, ought to be gratefully remembered by the American people.