Reminder to send thanks for scarf hand-knitted 60 years ago
By ERNEST McDANIEL F/393
For the Lafayette IN Journal and Courier
To the Ladies of the American Red Cross, Jersey City NJ chapter:
I read in the local paper that a group of women from our community is getting together to knit scarves for the soldiers fighting our battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. The article reminded me of a "thank you" letter I must write that is 60 years overdue.
Sixty years ago during the winter of 1944-45, I was an infantryman with the 99th Division. We had arrived early in November at the front line near Krinkelt, a small village along the German-Belgian border. Our homes were dugouts big enough for two men. I well remember that first night as we stood guard peering into that dark night, listening intently, the sound of clumps of snow slipping off the pine trees bringing our hearts to our mouths. On Dec. 16, the might of the German army hit us in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The name was derived from the hundred-mile penetration of the German armor and infantry as it raced through our lines and on toward Antwerp, Belgium, on the coast.
Our particular infantry division gave up four miles as we pulled back to a more defensible area called Elsenborn Ridge. This became the northern shoulder of the Bulge as the attack flowed around us and on toward the coast. There, dug into foxholes, we spent the longest winter of our lives, exposed to the view of the enemy, unable to move from our holes during the day. Head and shoulders protruded from our holes at night as we stood our two-hour watch, the wind sweeping across the snow covered fields and the stars twinkling so brightly and silently that we felt awed by the sight.
Living like animals in our holes, we were surprisingly warm when hunkered down inside. The holes were covered by light branches supporting our "shelter halves," half of a two-man pup tent carried by every man. The snow on top of the shelter half provided insulation. If we were lucky enough to have a candle, we found that the heat from the flame was soon enough that we had to take off our field jackets.
There was a constant threat of being hit by artillery shells and the anxiety of being called for a night patrol to probe the enemy lines seeking a prisoner for interrogation. One night we got one. He was hunkered down in his hole keeping warm and did not detect our approach. As we started back toward our lines I understood the loneliness and fear he had to feel and asked, "Wie heisst du?" I don't remember the name he gave me in response.
How does death come at the front? Suddenly, violently, and randomly! One night, two replacements came up and occupied our old hole. Suddenly, abruptly, without warning or fanfare, the hole received a direct hit from an artillery shell. The medics quickly arrived and asked us to help get the two men out of the hole. As I helped lift the first man out, I announced that he was dead; that we should get the other fellow out. From the bottom of the hole came an anguished voice: "What did you have to say that for? He was the only friend I had." Thus, Forte died and Feldman lived.
We were on that ridge from Dec. 19 until Jan. 31 when we moved out to attack the snowy woods to our left front.
I don't know when it was that I stopped to inspect the label attached to the hand-knitted scarf that had helped keep me warm during that long winter in the wind-swept fields of Belgium. I have it with me now and it reads, "From American Red Cross, Jersey City NJ Chapter." I expect most of the women who met, chatted, laughed, and visited while they knitted scarves for the troops are gone now, but I need to say "thanks" anyway. And I would like to pass along a message from those who stayed in Belgium:
When you go home,
tell them and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today.