The winter soldiers: 1776-77 and 1944-45

Battle of the Bulge in Belgium

Pfc. Frank Vukasin of the 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Division, reloads his rifle near Houffalize, Belgium, on Jan. 15, 1945

You step out of your warm home and curse the biting cold. Welcome to December.

Now imagine that instead of a cozy place to stay, you have to spend your nights in a hole in the ground with icy water in the bottom. You’re always cold and hungry, and you’re lucky if you get a hot meal.

You have to march for hours through the snow. You’re carrying a weapon that you have to keep clean and ready to fire in freezing temperatures. You live for each moment, because the enemy is up ahead, determined to kill you.

From my interviews with war veterans, I’ve come to appreciate the trial of having to fight the weather as well as the enemy. My series in The Morning Call, War Stories: In Their Own Words, has featured more than a dozen members of the Lehigh Valley chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.

So when I step outside and shiver, I often think of Jack Davis, Bo Pacala, Ray Christman, Lou Vargo, Evangeline Coeyman, the late Julius Barkis and the many thousands of other World War II vets who were caught in the German offensive that began Dec. 16, 1944.

We can never thank them enough for their sacrifice in the frozen forests of Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Why not tell the survivors yourself, as Mario Andretti did this fall? The Bulge vets meet for lunch the third Tuesday of every month at The Terrace restaurant in Walnutport. Visitors are welcome. Andretti, who was a child in Italy during the war, showed his gratitude by coming to one of the meetings and shaking hands with every veteran.

The cold spell also has me looking back 234 years to another of America’s wars, the Revolution. Years ago I read The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton, by Richard M. Ketchum, a narrative history published in 1973. It was so absorbing that I drove down to Washington Crossing on Christmas week and stood along the Delaware at the spot where Gen. Washington led his hard-pressed army across the river. I closed my eyes and heard the voices of 1776.

Thomas Paine nailed it in The Crisis when he wrote about the times that try men’s souls. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”


Here are the answers to my It’s a Wonderful Life World War II quiz last week:
1: Bert the cop was wounded and got the Silver Star in (c) North Africa.
2: Ernie the cab driver (b) parachuted into France.
3. Gower and Uncle Billy (d) sold war bonds.
4. Potter the banker (c) headed the draft board.
5. George Bailey couldn’t serve in the military because (a) he couldn’t hear out of one ear.
6. Sam Wainwright made a fortune in (c) plastic hoods for planes.
7. Harry Bailey (c) shot down 15 enemy planes, two as they were about to crash into a transport full of soldiers.
8. Mary Bailey, George’s wife, (c) ran the USO.
9. Mary’s brother Marty helped capture (c) the Remagen bridge.
10.  Ma Bailey and Mrs. Hatch (c) joined the Red Cross and sewed.

5 responses to “The winter soldiers: 1776-77 and 1944-45

  1. Any additional info about the soldier in the picture?


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