CB editor reviews The Longest Winter
By BILL MEYER
Your Ol' Editor has read many books on the Battle of the Bulge and listened to many personal accounts from those who were there. Never, however, has he read a book which captured the valiant story of the 99th as does "The Longest Winter" by Alex Kershaw.
Too many other accounts are flawed. Some are downright slanderous. Those who listen to such tales and draw faulty conclusions are advised to read this book which provides "the real skinny."
Kershaw not only tells the story of the I&R Platoon of the 394th Infantry, but also gives a carefully researched account of the regiment's action in WWII.
The First Battalion of the 394th was presented the Presidential Distinguished Unit citation for action in the Bulge, as was the I&R Platoon. Men of those units have been presented the award which they deserved.
But the overall story is that veterans of the 99th, whether they received distinguished medals or not, deserve accolades because they were there.
One veteran of the I&R Platoon, now deceased, told your OE that "we did what we did because we had to, we were the only ones there."
Another I&R vet, also now deceased, told your OE in Kansas City that one of the visiting German veterans attending the 99th convention that year "looks familiar." Upon being introduced, the German's face showed recognition. "I remember you." Our American friend replied, "When you captured me you took my pack of Camels." And the German grinned, "Yes, then I offered you one of your cigarettes." They laughed, and the German responded, "Maybe you'll feel better when you know that I was captured the following day by the Americans, and the cigarettes were gone."
While addressing the assembled group at the dedication of the 99th Memorial Monument at Krinkelt your OE asked veterans to "salute the men standing on each side of you, for they are heroes." His point was that all Checkerboard soldiers did their part, medals or not. A man stepped forward to agree, saying "we did what we did because we were the only ones there to do it, and it had to be done."
If you want to know what really happened on that hillside near Lanzerath in mid-December 1944, get a copy of the book. It's available on Amazon.com, at good bookstores, at your local library, and is published by Da Capo.
The major reason this book is outstanding is it was written by a professional who has published numerous bestsellers. He took the time to carefully research facts. He didn't base the story on rumors.
The infantrymen who obeyed the order to stay "at all costs" were accompanied by four artillerymen (C/371) who did likewise.
Their gripping saga of raw courage on that hillside is well documented and professionally presented in "The Longest Winter."
This surely is destined to become a movie. It has more courage, pathos, and gut wrenching action than others which became bestsellers and movies.
After you buy and read the book, bring it with you to San Antonio for the 99th convention. Men of the I&R Platoon will be on hand, several of them including their commander Lyle Bouck, as will men from the artillery observation team like Peter Gacki and others such as Boyd McCune, the exec-officer of 1/394 who fearlessly directed traffic on the Remagen Bridge for five long hours on March 10.
The full story is there, from Camp Maxey to the POW camps.
Those who were there, in the 99th, must read this book. Your OE couldn't put it down. After first glance he became immersed. You'll want to save it for grandchildren and probably re-read it.
Join us in San Antonio when we get our copy autographed by the men who historians credit with delaying Hitler's timetable along the Belgian border and ultimately winning the Battle of the Bulge at Elsenborn Ridge. "The Longest Winter" reflects pride on men of the 99th. Those who were there deserve that recognition.