Norwich University

Norwich University and the Battle of the Bulge: The Meuse River & Bastogne

The Ardennes, in their present state.

Sixty-Seven Years ago, on December 16th, 1944, the German military struck back against Allied forces in Belgium, the first major blow to the advance to Germany. During the battle, over a hundred members of the Norwich University community participated; former students who had graduated and advanced in the ranks of the U.S. military, and students who had graduated early to join the fight. They fought under some of the harshest conditions imaginable, and succeeded after a month of combat in the Ardennes. In 2010, I began a research project for the University, studying the role of the students and the school in the Battle before travelling overseas to Belgium. They played an incredible role in the battle, and undoubtably helped with many of the successes that would eventually lead to an Allied victory.

The Drive to the Meuse River

December 17th saw the beginnings of an organized response to the invasion: Generals Eisenhower and Bradley ordered the 7th Armored Division south from Holland and the 10th Armored Division from Patton’s command north, towards Bastogne. (Eisenhower 1995, 215) Additionally, the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, both recuperating in Reims, France after the fight in Holland, were activated on the 17th. (Cole 1964, 305) The 101st was trucked to the key crossroads at Bastogne along with the 10th Armored, while the 82nd Airborne moved further north, to Werbomont and Trois Ponts.

As the German military was prevented from moving inwards from the top of the line at Monschau, the German military moved up from the center, aiming for Liege and Trois Ponts, and was focused on the town of St. Vith, where American forces had begun to dig in. This battle would become known as the ‘Fortified Goose Egg’. Two regiments of the 106th surrendered to German forces, while a third held their ground at St. Vith, with the 7th Armored Division moving in to their aid. At least one Norwich graduate was with the 7th Armored, 1st Lieutenant Perley Brainerd Jr, ‘40. The combined forces, which were reinforced by remnants of the 28th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions in addition to several other scattered units, held their ground from the 17th as pitched fighting for the city began. (Toland 1999, 106)

By December 18th, the German military had pushed heavily into the region, some nearly as thirty miles into Allied territory. (Toland 1999, 97) Captain Albert Hicks and 1st Lieutenant Carl Hughes, were still located to the south of the 106th Infantry Division’s positions, where the situation became desperate: their mission changed from stopping the German advance to delaying them as much as possible. As the German military moved in towards Bastogne, the 28th worked to slow their advance, as US reinforcements arrived to contain them. (Eisenhower 1995, 253) Elements of the 9th Armored Division, with 2nd Lieutenant Olin C. Tosi ‘45, helped on the 17th, but ultimately, the 28th Infantry Division units fell apart under the German advance, allowing them to advance towards Bastogne.

However, because the German military relied on a strict timetable, the delaying actions of the units helped to stall German advance, allowing the 101st Airborne and the 10th Armored Divisions to move into Bastogne, where they were ordered to hold the crossroads at all costs.

At the same time on the 18th, the 3rd Armored Division moved into place between the Salm and Ourthe rivers, between the 84th Infantry Division and the 7th Armored Division, West of St. Vith. Lieutenant Colonel Elwyn W. Blanchard, ’36 had only just returned to command a battalion within the 3rd Armored, having been recovering from wounds he sustained in France. He continued his command until he was wounded again.

1st Lieutenant Robert Christie ‘44 recalled his unit, the 33rd Armored Regiment, ordered into the fight, brought in by train, with little idea of where they were headed or what they were faced with:

It was not many days thereafter that I found myself travelling through Belgium in “Forty Hommes et 8 Cheveaux”, rolling stock where I damned near froze to death for three or four days and was only kept warm by occasional swigs of calvados bought at the trainside from the French. From the train, I recall travelling in a 6×6 deep through Belgium and seeing wrecked tanks and other vehicles along the way, and occasionally unrecovered and unburied German and American bodies strewn across the road, this being the area in the middle of the Ardennes salient (Battle of the Bulge) by the Germans. (Christie n.d.)

Shortly after his arrival to Belgium, Christie encountered a fellow Norwich alumnus during the battle, although not face to face:

The day I hit the 33rd, I was ushered into a candle-lit room. From the big, dark bed, a voice boomed from the stack of blankets about a foot thick: “Who in hell’s Christie?” I made an appearance, and the next thing I heard was a gruff command to take a brace in the middle of the room and sing ‘Norwich Forever’. About that time, I had a small suspicion that perhaps there could be a Norwich man in the crowd. Sure enough, it was Major ‘Duffy’ Quinn, ’34… Still haven’t seen Duffy’s face. He was so wrapped up in those blankets, I didn’t get the opportunity. (Lt. Bob Christie, ’44, Gets Quinn Welcome 1945, 12)

Christie would go on to describe a Vermont winter as being a dozen times better what they were going through. He would later write a book about his experiences in the 2nd World War, in which he noted: “His chest suddenly tightened as he saw the partially displaced helmet from the sprawled body of a GI, the barrel of his rifle projecting upward out of the snow at a low angle. He suddenly realized what a dead American soldier really was.” (Christie n.d., 77) Christie’s experiences and his turn towards writing after the war come as no surprise when his experience with the Norwich University Record and the War Whoop are taken into consideration. (War Whoop 1947, 67)

Including Christie, eight Norwich men belonged to the 3rd Armored Division: Lieutenant Colonel Elwyn W. Blanchard, ’36, Major Scott Gordon, ’33, Major Duffy Quinn ‘34, Captain Charles J. Adams, ’39, Captain George Riley, ’32, 1st. Lieutenant Arthur Curtis, ’41, 1st Lieutenant Herman J. Lavin ’33, 1st Lieutenant Charles Sellars, ’47 and 2nd Lieutenant Richard P. Briggs, ’42.

The battle for St. Vith at this point was “in full swing.” (Toland 1999, 106) The 3rd Armored Division met with the 82nd Airborne Division by mid-day on the 19th, when the 82nd began to move east, towards Trois Ponts, just to the northwest of St. Vith. By the 20th, they had set up a perimeter around Werbomont in all directions, while the 3rd was directed to move out as far south as Houffalize. (Cole 1964, 344-346)

On December 19th, the 26th Infantry Division moved to Luxembourg to help advance Northwest against the Germans moving on Bastogne, with Norwich members Captain Leonard E. Nysted, ’42, 1st Lieutenant Burton B. Fall Jr., ’44, and Corporal Bradford A. Cook Jr. ’44 along with the unit. (Cook n.d., 520) They attacked on the 21st at Rambrouch, Grosbous and to the Wiltz River, joining with the 4th Armored Division which contained Captain George Fairbanks ’39 and Private Charles Bailey, ’47.

For his actions throughout the Bulge, Fairbanks was awarded the Bronze Star:

Since [November 9, 1944], this unit has never wanted for supplies of any type so long as they were at all available. There is no limit to the extent to which Capt. Fairbanks will go to obtain the necessary supplies, even though this entailed many trips to rear areas at all hours and under all types of weather conditions. On numerous occasions, he has gone to company positions in an unarmored vehicle under enemy shelling to obtain a list of the daily needs.

Capt. Fairbanks was with the Fourth Armored Division when the crack tank outfit effected the historic relief of the besieged 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne, Belgium.

Along with the 4th Armored Division’s push, the 104th Infantry Division with John W. Howley, ’44, and 80th Infantry Division, with Joseph Caffrey Jr., ’48, this push absorbed some of the remaining members of the 28th Infantry division. By Christmas Day, the force moved to Arsdorf, Belgium, encountering heavy fighting, where they would be pushed back. They regrouped in January for a renewed push to the area. At some point during this engagement, John Howley ’44, would be captured and sent to a POW camp, from which he would escape three times.

On December 21st, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery ordered a retreat from St. Vith, forfeiting the position. The 106th Infantry and the remnants of the other units pulled out during this withdrawal. Two things largely saved the units at St. Vith: the ferocity of the Allied defense around the city, and the readiness of the German field units, which had yet to receive their full strength by December 20th. Despite the failure to hold onto the positions, the actions at St. Vith helped to further slow the German advance.

Bastogne, December 20 – December 27

 With the difficulties that the Germans faced with the defense of St. Vith, their focus shifted to the next set of crossroads, located at Bastogne. (Cole 1964, 306) General Eisenhower, over the protests of General Patton, ordered the 10th Armored North to the crossroads. The Division contained a number of Norwich men: Captain Phil Baird, ’38, Captain Dave Perrin, ’41, Captain, Marinus Van Kleef, ’41, Captain John R. McGauley, ’41, 2nd Lieutenant Wilburn Hardy, ’45, Corporal Joseph McCloskey, ’42, Joseph Haines Clarke ‘40, Captain Philip R. Calder, ‘41, Lieutenant. Hubert Shietinger, ’43, and Staff Sergeant Robert G. Buttinger ’48. One member of the unit, Captain McGauley, recounted in a letter to the Norwich Record of his experiences in the unit:

 I have met several Norwich men over here so far. Most interesting were meetings during the ‘Bulge’. I was at Bastogne when the Germans started through, and in the tumult of action, I ran into Cap. Phil Baird, ’38. The last time I had seen him was when I was a freshman and was acting as an orderly for him. When the 4th Arm’d broke through to us, one of the first persons I met was Maj. Tom Churchill, ’40.

The only members of my class still with me are Capt. Dave Perrin, and Capt. Marinus Van Kleed, both of whom have been wounded, and since returned to duty. Capt. Joe McCloskey, ’42 and Lt. Hubert Shietinger, ’43, are in this outfit also. (Capt. John McGauley, ’41, Names Norwich Men With Him At Bastogne 1945)

Joining the 10th Armored Division was the 101st Airborne Division, who drove towards Bastogne, reaching it on the 19th. An eventual member of the Norwich community, Howard Brosseau was a member of the 502nd Regiment of the 101st Airborne, which supported the north-northwest shoulder around the city. The American units around Bastogne dug in securely, with the mission to hold the town at all costs. (Eisenhower 1995, 318) The German military was aware that the US had moved in two of their airborne divisions to the center of the attack, but failed to anticipate how quickly they would set up around the city, and were forced to react as they came into contact with the three combined-arms task forces supplied by the 10th Armored Division that were sent along the roads leading out of the city. The Americans were able to hold off the Germans for the remainder of the 19th, but by the 20th, they were cut off by German forces. Over the next couple of days, they would repel attacks from all sides in one of the most dramatic engagements of the battle, receiving supplies by air on the 23rd and 24th before being cut off again by poor weather on Christmas day. By the next day, units from the 4th Armored moved in and helped hold open supply lines, likely aided by Major Churchill and Captain Fairbanks.

With the breakthrough of the 4th Armored, the siege of Bastogne was over. Like at St. Vith, the allied actions helped to further slow the onslaught, denying the German military a vital crossroads that they required to support their objectives to the west. (Cole 1964, 480-481)

Monday: the 2nd Armored Division and Ciney

Norwich University and the Battle of the Bulge: Breakthrough

Grave marking for 2nd Lt. Arnold MacKerer, '46

Sixty-Seven Years ago, on December 16th, 1944, the German military struck back against Allied forces in Belgium, the first major blow to the advance to Germany. During the battle, over a hundred members of the Norwich University community participated; former students who had graduated and advanced in the ranks of the U.S. military, and students who had graduated early to join the fight. They fought under some of the harshest conditions imaginable, and succeeded after a month of combat in the Ardennes. In 2010, I began a research project for the University, studying the role of the students and the school in the Battle before travelling overseas to Belgium. They played an incredible role in the battle, and undoubtably helped with many of the successes that would eventually lead to an Allied victory.

Breakthrough, December 16th – December 17th

By December, the Allied advance towards Germany had slowed down. The Allied armies settled along the German border in Belgium and France where units received replacements, retrained and waited to move forward. On December 15th, Private First Class Walter Henry, ‘45, of the 44th Infantry Division, went on leave in Paris, France where he planned on seeing Glenn Miller’s orchestra. While there, word came through that Miller’s airplane had been reported missing somewhere over the English Channel. Disappointed, Henry returned to his unit in Belgium. (Henry, Questions of Oct. 18 re: Battle of the Bulge 2011)

The German breakthrough of Allied lines began at 5:30 in the morning with an artillery barrage against 85 miles of Allied lines on December 16th. (Toland 1999, 23) At the top of the invasion near Monschau, three Norwich men were part of the 9th Infantry division: Major John Costello ’42, and twin brothers Arnold and Donald MacKerer ’46, both 2nd Lieutenants. Several miles to the south were six Norwich men assigned to the 106th Infantry Division: 1st Lieutenant Ralph H. Baker Jr, ‘43 Corporal Howard R. Clement ’32, Sergeant Edwin Seeger ’46, Corporal Henry Waters, ’46, Sergeant Walter H. Weatherill, ’44, and Private Gregory Sarmanian, ’47, who was part of the 14th Cavalry Group. In the center of the invasion was the veteran 28th Infantry division, which included Captain Albert E. Hicks, ’36, and 1st Lieutenant Carl Hughes, ’42. At the bottom of the invasion, the 4th Infantry Division included 1st Lieutenant Thomas L. Fulham, 2nd Lieutenant Robert H. Harrington and John W. Knowlton, all of the class of 1947.

During the initial attack, Sergeant Seeger of the 106th was killed in action, defending his post, while occupying a forward position that was overrun near Winterscheid.

Sergeant Seeger’s squadron was providing reconnaissance for the 106th Division on the opening day of the battle of “The Bulge”, December 16th, 1944. The Sergeant, with three other men, were occupying the most advance post of their squadron when the Germans overran their position. He was fatally wounded while “defending his position against overwhelming odds,” near Winterstchied, Germany, in the St. Vith sector on the first day of the battle of “The Bulge”. (War Whoop 1947, 30)

He appears to have been one of the first Norwich casualties during the battle, although he would not be the last: at some point on December 16th, 1st Lieutenant George Norman Anderson ’43, of the 1121st Combat Engineering Group, was captured, force marched to a prison camp in Bavaria, where he was later recovered by US forces.

Corporal Henry Waters ’46, was also reported as a casualty on the 16th: Corp. Henry C. Waters, Jr. has been reported missing in action in Germany as of Dec. 16. The son of Mr. and Mrs. H.C. Water of Marblehead, MA, has been overseas since Nov. 11, and was in a unit of the 106th Division which was rushed to the front lines following the Von Rundstedt breakthrough. (Corp. Henry Waters, ’46, Missing in Action 1945, 28)

As the German military advanced, units of the 14th Cavalry Group occupied one of the key routes which stood in their way, with other units 25 miles away in Vielsalm. (Toland 1999, 27) Private George Sarmanian ’47, a member of the unit, was likely present at the first moments of the attack. By 1300 hrs, the 14th Cavalry Group had run out of ammunition, and began to retreat west towards American lines.

At the same time on December 16th, the 28th Infantry Division was hit alongside its entire divisional front. The center of the Division’s lines were hit hard by the German invaders, blowing open the route towards the interior of Belgium. (Toland 1999, 27) The two Norwich alumni were present amongst its ranks, Captain Albert E. Hicks, and 1st Lieutenant Carl R. Hughes would remain close friends after the war. During the attack, Hughes’ unit, the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, was surrounded by German forces. Hughes escaped by walking through the enemy lines, arriving back at American lines three days later on the 19th.

Carl Hughes described his experiences in a letter for the Norwich Record:

Here’s a bit of news. I was in Luxembourg when the breakthrough came. My unit was surrounded for three days, and then we made a break for it. We lost our wheels, so I walked through the German lines three days and nights. Now am getting a few days of rest after 170 days of combat. I saw Al Hicks ’36, in Germany during the battle of Hurtgen Forest. We were working side by side. (Lt. Carl Huges, ’42, with Capt. Al Hicks, ’36, At Hurtgen Forest 1945, 31)

At the same time that the Record received Hughes’ letter, further news arrived about Hicks:

“The squadron commander had my troop fall out into formation while he pinned by captain’s bars on me although the Germans were shelling about 400 yards away.” Capt. Hicks wrote his wife, “so you see I got my promotion on the battlefield after all.”

Attached to the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Capt. Hicks at one time pursued the Germans for 140 days with only little rest. Up to this time, he has been decorated with the Silver Star for gallantry in the face of the enemy, the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement and numerous other citations. (Lt. Carl Huges, ’42, with Capt. Al Hicks, ’36, At Hurtgen Forest 1945, 31)

At the bottom of the German invasion, the 4th Infantry Division met elements of the German military’s attack head-on near Echternach, where they held onto their territory, backed up by the 5th Infantry Division and Patton’s Third Army. The 6th Armored Division, with 1st Lieutanant John F. Hammell ‘44, 1st Lieutenant Donald F. Wing ‘44, 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Pottle ’44, and Sergeant John H. Pimm ‘47, was located in the same area, between the French-German border, where they faced off against German forces on the other side of a river.

The northern most section of the invasion was held by the 9th Infantry division, who arrived near Monschau by the 20th of December. It helped to contain the enemy advance towards the north and limited their movement around the center of the invasion. 2nd Lieutenant Arnold ‘Bill’ MacKerer ‘46, had recently earned the Silver Star medal for his actions in Schlick, Germany, ten days earlier:

Lieutenant MacKerer was awarded the Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action on December 11, 1944, near Schlick, Germany. He crawled forward, under enemy fire and observation, to within twenty-five yards of a machine gun. With complete disregard for personal safety, he threw two grenades, destroying the gun and killing the entire crew of the machine gun. (War Whoop 1947, 29)

His twin brother, Donald, would survive him after the war, and described his brother as “a very strong person, totally fearless in combat, and he took more chances. He was much less bothered by the terror of warfare than I was” (Dean 2006).

The unit would stay in place for the battle, keeping the German advance back from Holland in the battle’s northern shoulder. (Cole 1964, 134) As the German military advanced, Bill MacKerer’s five man patrol was tasked with finding the whereabouts of the Germans in their area:
His brother’s patrol performed its mission all too well, Don said. It turned up a nest of German machine-gunners, and Bill, struck by a burst of machine gun fire, fell mortally wounded. (Dean 2006)

His actions were reported in the Norwich Record:

Ten days after the action for which he was posthumously decorated, he was hit by machine gun fire while on a reconnaissance patrol near Monschau, died as a result of the wounds, and was buried in the Henry-Chapple Cemetery near Leige, Belgium. (Lt. Arnold MacKerer, ’46, Dies of Wounds 1945)

Following the death of his brother, Donald took command of the same platoon, which he remained in charge of until he himself was wounded shortly after the end of the Bulge, on February 2nd, 1945. (Lt. Arnold MacKerer, ’46, Dies of Wounds 1945)

By December 17th, most of the Allied forces had to pull back: The 106th Infantry Division pulled back towards St. Vith, while the German advance went through the 28th Infantry Division’s lines. One of the units that had moved following the attack was the 44th Infantry Division, along with a newly promoted Staff Sergeant Walt Henry. While the Germans had not yet hit their area in the south, they moved quickly to better ground. As they moved out, Henry recalled leaving with only their guns and ammunition. Left behind was a newly arrived package from his wife, Edith: “Some lucky German [son of a bitch] enjoyed all the goodies that Edith had so lovingly packed and sent me. I’ll never forgive them for that.” (Henry, World War II Years n.d.)

The Axis advance was aimed straight in towards American lines, uncontained.

Tomorrow, The Drive to the Meuse River & Bastogne.

Norwich University and the Battle of the Bulge: Introduction

Sixty-Seven Years ago, on December 16th, 1944, the German military struck back against Allied forces in Belgium, the first major blow to the advance to Germany. During the battle, over a hundred members of the Norwich University community participated; former students who had graduated and advanced in the ranks of the U.S. military, and students who had graduated early to join the fight. They fought under some of the harshest conditions imaginable, and succeeded after a month of combat in the Ardennes. In 2010, I began a research project for the University, studying the role of the students and the school in the Battle before travelling overseas to Belgium. They played an incredible role in the battle, and undoubtably helped with many of the successes that would eventually lead to an Allied victory.

Introduction – The Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge was the most intense and costly engagement that the United States and its allies waged against the German military during the Second World War. Over a million soldiers on both sides were involved in the clash that would last for 41 days. In the pre-dawn hours of December 16th, 1944, the German military struck against the Allied advance along the German-Belgian border. Relying on a combination of inclement weather and surprise, the Germans caught Allied leaders by surprise, and were able to push through their lines far into Belgium. The 1947 memorial edition of the Norwich University War Whoop, described the battle succinctly:

We continued to advance against the Germans in Europe with occasional set-backs, such as “the Bulge”, which was not just another set-back for the men who were there, but a battle fought for the highest stakes by both sides.

Norwich University played its own role in the battle, with just under one hundred alumni spread out across the battlefield. The training and education that the school provided her alumni undoubtedly played a role in the conduct and leadership abilities that guided them as they were shipped off to Europe. By the time December 16th arrived, the Norwich University Record reported that 1,600 Norwich Men were involved in the war, with 1,218 of them serving as commissioned officers. A further 15 held the rank of General, demonstrating the value of the training they received in Vermont.

Norwich men occupied every level of the command structure in units that participated in the Battle of the Bulge, ranging from the rank of Private First Class on the front lines to Major General, overseeing the operations of an entire division. Each played a pivotal role in the direction of the battle’s outcome. In the fight, Norwich University alumni gave their blood and their lives in Belgium; the ultimate sacrifice for their country in a time of grave need.

Soldiers from Norwich were also present throughout the battle, from the first moments of the battle, to the last, over a month later, occupying airborne, infantry and most particularly, armored units, instrumental in all aspects of the battle.

Setting the Stage

On June 6th, 1944, Allied forces came ashore in Normandy, France, where the fight into Europe began in earnest, pushing the German military further back over the course of the fall that year. During that time, a number of Norwich University alumni arrived to fight for their country: On June 9th, elements of the 2nd Armored Division arrived on shore, under the command of General Edward Brooks ‘16, a Norwich graduate, who would eventually hand over command to General Ernest Harmon ‘16, who would continue to push deeper into Europe.

From Normandy, Allied forces moved to liberate Paris, engaging in a long campaign to capture the ground between the beaches and the capital, eventually doing so on August 25th, 1944.

In September 1944, the allies launched Operation Market-Garden against German positions in Holland. Allied forces looked to capture ground and allow for a quick march straight to Germany. Its eventual failure pushed back expectations that they would reach Berlin in a timely manner.

The 2nd Armored Division found themselves in the midst of the action as they pushed towards Germany and through the Siegfried Line, described as the division’s worst experiences in the war. During this campaign, Lieutenant Colonel Clifton Batchelder ‘32, and his unit were visited by a Red Cross truck with several women handing out supplies. The women were invited to join the officers, and Batchelder, pulling rank, sat next to one of the Red Cross nurses, Anne: “From then on, when I wasn’t fighting, I was chasing Anne; until two weeks after VE day when we were married.” (A. Batchelder n.d., 2) Batchelder had been a student at the same time that the division’s Commanding General, Ernest N. Harmon, had been the Professor of Military Science and later, Commandant of Cadets. He explained after the war that one of his highest points during his experience was Harmon’s instruction in equitation.

On October 13th, 1944, the 2nd Armored Division saw action at Wurselen, Germany, where Captain James Burt ‘39, of the 66th Armored Regiment’s B Company, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions against a German garrison over the course of nine days. During that time, he directed fire from his units, scouted enemy positions, and aided the wounded soldiers involved in the fight:

In the first day’s action, when infantrymen ran into murderous small-arms and mortar fire, Captain Burt dismounted from his tank about 200 yards to the rear and moved forward on foot beyond the infantry positions, where, as the enemy concentrated a tremendous volume of fire upon him, he calmly motioned his tanks into good firing positions. As our attack gained momentum, he climbed aboard his tank and directed the action from the rear deck, exposed to hostile volleys which finally wounded him painfully in the face and neck. He maintained his dangerous post despite pointblank self-propelled gunfire until friendly artillery knocked out these enemy weapons, and then proceeded to the advanced infantry scouts’ positions to deploy his tanks for the defense of the gains which had been made. The next day, when the enemy counterattacked, he left cover and went 75 yards through heavy fire to assist the infantry battalion commander who was seriously wounded. For the next 8 days, through rainy, miserable weather and under constant, heavy shelling, Captain Burt held the combined forces together, dominating and controlling the critical situation through the sheer force of his heroic example. To direct artillery fire, on 15 October, he took his tank 300 yards into the enemy lines, where he dismounted and remained for 1 hour giving accurate data to friendly gunners. Twice more that day he went into enemy territory under deadly fire on reconnaissance. In succeeding days he never faltered in his determination to defeat the strong German forces opposing him. Twice the tank in which he was riding was knocked out by enemy action, and each time he climbed aboard another vehicle and continued the fight. He took great risks to rescue wounded comrades and inflicted prodigious destruction on enemy personnel and materiel even though suffering from the wounds he received in the battle’s opening phase. (MOH Citation for James M. Burt n.d.)

Burt’s actions were understatedly heroic over an extended period of time. His letters to his wife from the same time reflect little of the actions that he had just carried out, and following the war, he returned to a quiet life as a high school teacher in New Hampshire: the very embodiment of a citizen soldier.

Tomorrow, the Breakthrough.

Karl Marlantes on ‘Matterhorn’

Each year, the Colby Symposium awards the Colby Award to a first notable book from an author that deals fundamentally with the nature of warfare and contributes substantially to the field. During the awards dinner this year, executive director and Norwich University Alum, Carlo D’Este said that it was rare that the entire committee universally agrees on a single book, but that this was the case for the 2011 prize, going to Karl Marlantes, with his first acclaimed novel, Matterhorn.

Karl Marlantes is a Marine Corps veteran, a Rhodes Scholar, and a graduate from Yale University. In the course of his military service during the Vietnam War, he earned the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, two Navy Commendation Medals for Valor, ten air medals and the Navy Cross, amongst numerous others. He first attempted to publish his novel in 1967 and was unsuccessful until 2009, when his book was published by El Leon Literary Arts, and later by the Atlantic Monthly Press in 2010.

Matterhorn is a work of fiction, but is closely tied to Marlantes’s own experiences in Vietnam. Early in his presentation, he told the group that he wanted to tell the common experience of Vietnam, rather than simply his own: in literature, readers relate to the characters in the novel, whereas in a memoir, the reader’s experience is somewhat different. He believed that fiction was the better route in this case, also because he wanted to get into the heads of a number of different characters, rather than just one person.

Like Stanton, he noted that part of a soldier’s training is that people make mistakes: the key is to make sure that the mistake isn’t repeated. In the instance of military operations, mistakes can be fatal, and officers are responsible for the people under their command. He noted that the military is run by human beings, and that he didn’t believe that there were villains, just people with flaws.

Vietnam, he said, is akin to the alcoholic father, the elephant in the room: it’s influential, but nobody wants to talk about it. Like we’re seeing now in Afghanistan, we didn’t understand the culture, we were restrained by very strict rules of engagement and we worked with a very corrupt and illegitimate native government. One key difference is that there is the absence of major civil unrest in the United States right now, unlike in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1969, there were over 200 fragging instances, where someone would take a fragmentation grenade and roll it into someone’s tent. These incidents of fratricide were usually racially motivated. He said that when you take a bunch of 19 year olds and give them weapons, you have the very definition of racial tensions.

Another major difference was the institution of the draft. While the draft was incredibly unfair – people could be exempted from being called into service (if they were attending college, for example), but we have a burdened all volunteer military now. Marlantes asserted that changes needed to be made and that the volunteer military needs to be rethought, as extended periods of warfare put an incredible strain on our armed forces and on the country as a whole. He cited an indifference to the military right now, and that that wasn’t good for anyone.

One of the major problems that helped to define Vietnam (and according to Jack Segal, Afghanistan as well): the lack of definable progress with the war. World War II was a clear cut battle: there were objectives that were captured, defined and tangible enemies that were pushed back, islands captured, and so forth. With Vietnam, the only progress was a body count (which he also noted was heavily distorted by soldiers on the ground). Using a body count as a measure of war is immoral. The purpose of the military is not to kill (although it carries that out in the course of its duties) but to stop their enemy from continuing the fight. As soon as one military gets the other to stop, they’ve won. The killing should never be the objective of the war. In a way, Vietnam became a game. In all things, whether it’s warfare or a business, the objectives and the metrics used need to be clear-cut, careful and solid.

Marlantes also cited that there shouldn’t be a separation between the people on the ground and the strategy for the war as a whole. Micromanagement of soldiers is problematic, and its essentially a double-edged sword, something that began in Vietnam, and is something that we continue with today. The people on the ground need to understand what the objectives are, and the people setting the objectives need to understand the capabilities and resources available to them in the people on the ground.

At every reading, Marlantes was asked where Matterhorn was. He fought at Hill 484, where they fought very hard to take and hold the position: at one point, they were down to seven bullets per man, before resupply. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was very well organized, and formidable enemies. 484, and another hill, 3107, heavily influenced the novel. He noted that a lot of people pulled him aside and recounted their own experiences, and how similar the book’s lined up with their own, an indication that the war saw numerous similar experiences for a number of different people.

One major problem with Vietnam, he noted, was the way in which the war was approached and fought. Just a couple of decades after the Second World War, the Navy and Marines were geared towards certain ways of fighting: the marines were geared towards amphibious warfare, while their helicopters were geared towards tactical missions, rather than resupply. During WWII, the Marines worked to take islands, dropped off by the Navy, who would then retreat out of range. Rather than simply bombing, the Marines sought to exchange casualties for speed. However, capital ships weren’t in regular danger, and that this caused problems in the execution of the war’s strategy.

Personal problems also flared up: drug usage was heavy amongst soldiers, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but soldiers of Vietnam exchanged alcohol for pills, or weed. This is something that’s continued forward with the current wars in Afghanistan, although now, it’s through legal means, and is something that Marlantes believes will be causing a number of psychological problems for soldiers after the war is over.

Matterhorn is a novel that he hopes will demonstrate the character of the Vietnam War, and through the course of the talk, it’s clear that there’s a number of parallels between the conflicts in Vietnam and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East: the changes in strategy, the metrics of warfare, the organization and command of the soldiers and the uncertain battleground and objectives. Matterhorn is on my personal to-read list, and at some point in the future, I’ll have a review for it here. There are lessons in the past that should not be overlooked, or forgotten.

Battlefield Doctor: Dr. Chris Coppola

Norwich University’s Colby Military Writer’s Symposium is an annual event that gathers military writers together in Northfield, where a series of panels and presentations help to educate the student body and general public on relevant and pressing matters in today’s military. I’ve looked forward to the event each year, and once again, I’ve been impressed with the quality and information this year.

The first presentation of the symposium was held in the Kreitzberg Library’s multipurpose room, featuring Dr. Chris Coppola, author of the book Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq, where he recounted his experiences as a surgeon in Iraq during his two deployments. In years past, where the symposium has discussed larger issues such as counterinsurgency doctrine or civilian interactions in the battlefield, this represented a bit of a departure, because it shed a bit of light on a major combat element: the casualties.

Dr. Coppola noted that the casualty infrastructure that has been put into place in Iraq during the invasion and subsequent occupation was an unprecedented one in the history of warfare. At any point in the country, a soldier or casualty was never more than twenty minutes from a hospital: once a soldier was injured, a helicopter was flown in to the scene, and the casualty was evacuated to a hospital system. A system had been put into place, with hospitals numbered with a certain level, which would allow for a certain amount of treatment. The wartime hospitals ranged from a level one to a level three center, which would allow doctors to treat and stabilize the wounded. For more serious cases, people were evacuated to Germany by plane, to level four hospitals, and eventually, to level five hospitals in the United States.

According to Dr. Coppola, this was a key element to saving lives on the battlefield. His hospital, he told us, had a survival rate of 98%: if people went in with a pulse, they had a very good chance of surviving their visit. The short trip after being wounded helped: this wasn’t always the skill of the doctors there, (although with the internet, they had access to a lot of information and the cumulative experience of prior doctors), but the fact that a wounded soldier with serious injuries could be treated very quickly. Another factor, he noted, was new equipment, such as body armor and vehicles engineered to redirect blast energy if hit by an IED.

However, doctors faced new types of wounds in addition to bullets: blast wounds from explosives, were common, and resulted in numerous types of injuries. As Dr. Coppola said: anything on the body can be hurt. When he received his first patient in Iraq, he saw that he had to treat five of the most serious wounds that could be done to a person.

Civilians were another major problem that they faced, as his hospital received far more civilian casualties than they did US soldiers or even enemy combatants. This was compounded by a couple of problems: the Iraqi healthcare system was broken, with numerous doctors killed or known to have fled the country, as well as being behind the times. As a result, when word got out that there was a pediatric surgeon in the area, people began to bring their children to the hospital, where doctors worked to fix other long-standing issues, such as birth defects, injuries, and other problems that treatments simply weren’t readily available for families. While the primary mission of the doctors was to treat soldiers to return to the battlefield or stabilize them for further treatment, doctors played to their strength and helped within their specialties.

One particular anecdote, Coppola recounted a story of where a known insurgent had been brought in, who had talked about killing former patients. It was an incredibly difficult thing to have to do, treating the person, but they followed through and fulfilled their mission: treating patients who came through the door. Undoubtedly, this will be an ethical question that doctors will continue to face in the future.

Coppola wrapped up by addressing the affects of warfare long after the battle is over. He acknowledged some of the problems in the system at home, in the treatment of soldiers after they have returned home. Despite the issues, he said, we owe them the care. A 20 year old amputee, he said, has a better chance of rehabilitation, and incredible advances are being made in post-injury treatment. Other problems might come up in the near future, long after we’ve left the battle: soldiers who are using legal drugs, such as energy drinks and sleeping pills, might have an increased risk of mental problems, with undesirable problems after the fact: there’s been a rise in suicides, fratricides, and long standing problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. That’s a legacy of the war that we’ll need to cope with, and learn to handle as the years move on.

Coppola’s talk was an enlightening one: I have a feeling that it’s something that should be seen by everyone, because of the graphic nature: it’s a vivid demonstration of war’s effects on the people fighting it, and the people unlucky enough to be in harm’s way during the conflict. Coppola seemed optimistic, though, noting that where doctors had learned from their experiences, he learned from their experiences, and that he regularly consults on cases with doctors overseas, putting his own experiences to continued use.

Battle of the Bulge: Phase II

On December 17th 1944, from what I can tell so far, the 100th Infantry Division was ordered to the Bastogne, Noville, and Bras areas to stop the sudden attack by German forces. The 28th Infantry division found itself on its second day fighting for its survival as their entire divisional front was under attack, and member of the division, 1st Lt. Carl Hughes of the 102nd Cavalry Recon Squadron continued to make his way through enemy lines. The Battle of the Bulge was in full force in Germany and Belgium, and would continue to rage on for over a month.

The anniversary of the beginning of the battle saw the start of the second phase of my project documenting the Norwich University alumni who fought there. I had hoped to have finished the writing by this point, but that hasn’t happened yet, but the research and collection of raw data has largely wound down for the project. From the data that I was able to collect, I’ve assembled a list of just under a hundred and fifty people from a variety of sources: publications, records, mentions, with thirty people confirmed with sources that they were present at some point, another 73 people who might have been there based on their unit, ten people who can be written off, with a further 30 people who may or may not have been there, but with very little to go on, other than a country reference.

This collection of raw data has some additional bits of information that goes along with each student: their rank, unit, whether they were wounded or killed, what medals they earned, and any other additional notes. As a whole, it’s a wealth of information that only tells me a couple of certain points that help lead to the next stage.

Raw data by itself is somewhat useless. I can tell you ten things about Carl Hughes. He was a first lieutenant in the 28th Infantry division with the 102nd Cavalry Recon Squadron, that he graduated from Norwich in 1942, that he received the Bronze and Silver Stars in addition to a purple heart, and that he walked through enemy lines for three days following the attack when his unit was surrounded. The next step involves adding context to the situation.

Going unit by unit, this next step involves adding that context. With it, I’ve learned that the 28th Infantry Division had taken the first impact of the German advance on December 16th, along a 25 mile stretch that enveloped the division, and that from the 16th through the 22nd, the unit was involved in heavy fighting before pulling back on the 22nd to Neufchateau to reorganize. This additional layer helps to put the individual experiences of the soldiers into better context.

With rare exceptions, student information on their individual experiences during the battle are rare, and in those instances, I have a paragraph at the most, or a brief sentence at the least that indicates that an alum was present at any part of the battle. The additional information as to what the units as a whole were up to help to fill in the blanks and gives me a general idea of what any given student might have been doing at the time. Furthermore, the individual data points that make up Norwich Students on the timeline helps to etch out a clearer understanding of how the battle worked: it was complicated, with numerous fronts, battles and units involved. Approaching the battle from the people who studied at Norwich also helps to demonstrate the impact that Norwich itself played during the battle, much like I discovered with the Operation Overload paper that I wrote in 2007. There was a collective Norwich experience that was widespread throughout the conflict.

This next step is far from done – quick passes through the Army Historical blurbs allow me to pin point some key dates for units, and a second pass will help to put in more detail for some of the larger units, such as the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions and the 17th Airborne Division, which seems to have a larger collection of Norwich men within it. With a codified timeline in place, the events of the battle can be put down into more detail, and a larger story of the Battle of the Bulge will appear, seen through the eyes of the school’s alumni.

It’s an exciting bit of work as I am able to gather more and more information on individual units and to see the battle emerge from the raw data points that I’ve collected. One thing is for sure so far: Norwich University was present on the front lines (and in one case, above them) and undoubtably, given some of the notations, medals and units that these men earned and occupied, it had some hand in the outcome of the battle, providing a basis for the actions of the men who fought in 1944 and 1945.

Good Leadership means Continued Learning: ADM Thad Allen at Norwich University

Last night, Retired Admiral Thad Allen talked before a group of Norwich University students and Northfield residents for the latest entry in the Todd Lecture series, with a talk titled ‘Leading Through Crisis and Times of Change’. Adm. Allen is uniquely qualified on this particular subject, having served as the person in charge for the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita cleanup just after the storm destroyed parts of New Orleans, the Haiti Earthquake and as the National Incident Commander for the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. Each disaster was an unprecedented event that warranted extraordinary response measures, and in each case, the issues that

Leadership was the focus of the talk, amongst the times when leaders were most needed to complete and correct the problems that have typically faced the country. While Allen’s experiences are monumental, major disasters, much of what he had talked about were very applicable lessons for everyone: ways to confront challenges in the workplace, in the community, and if needed, on a state or national level. Over the course of its history, the country has tackled a number of challenges and problems facing it, and there is no doubt that there will be plenty more in the future. One of the key things that I’ve found in both my education and employment at Norwich University (more so with my employment) is that leadership is an incredibly important thing when it comes to any organization.

When Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans, Allen likened it to the effect of a weapon of mass destruction, without the criminal element, and then response to the problem. Had the city been hit with a nuclear weapon or something that could produce a similar effect, a vastly different response would have been put together. A key element in leadership is the people in place who can reconcile both competency and opportunity in the face of a situation while seeking the appropriate outcome. The major issue with the Katrina disaster was that the people in charge of the recovery at first didn’t understand what the problem was. There was a broken link between understanding what the priorities were, and applying the resources accordingly. When he arrived eight days after the storm, a different problem had to be tackled, with authorities operating without a clear chain of command. They broke the city up into different sections, with various organizations such as the Marines and 82nd Airborne taking control of specific tasks. First responder teams worked to provide logistical, security and rescue support for each house in the city, with the members of these teams given the authority to work under the Mayor of the city.

The thing that struck me the most was how much of leadership consisted of problem solving, and just how profound the realization was that problems changed dramatically while they’re playing out, and that the best response often comes beforehand, with people under one’s command / supervision who can be used to deal with problems as they arise. When it came to Haiti, Allen likened it to Katrina on a much larger scale, and with other, additional problems. While the country’s leaders had survived, the UN mission found itself without leadership when their building collapsed, causing problems interfacing between the country and the rest of the world. As what had been found during the Katrina response, a clear, unified command wasn’t present in the country. Many of the lessons that were learned during Katrina were applied in the response to Haiti, to the effect of where U.S. command and control infrastructure was packed up into a C-140 and flown down.

Haiti was devastated, and once again, relief efforts had to utilize the resources at hand. Port du Prince was destroyed, Allen said, due to engineering and the magnitude of the quake, cutting off the only major way to receive large amounts of materials. As a result, the air space was restricted, and a large-scale effort was put into place to bring in supplies by air. At the peak of the air operations, 160 flights per day were landing, helped by several years of work from the 1st Air Force and lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. NGOs on the ground were also used, because the people on the ground knew the people that they were delivering relief to: a human response to the human problems was needed, and helped in a lot of ways.

The next major issue was the one that is still in the news: the Gulf Oil Spill. Allen was very clear on a couple of points: despite the controversy over BP’s role in the spill, his attention was on the parts that needed to be taken care of right away: containing the spill, capping the well and killing it. Despite the fact that the oil company had a hand in the disaster, they made incredible efforts to kill it, and faced enormous technical and engineering problems that resembled more of Apollo 13 than the Exxon Valdez.

Additionally, there wasn’t an apparent role for the federal government: this started off as a private sector problem, and BP wasn’t seen as a responsible party because they weren’t answerable to the general public.

The oil spill was incredibly complicated. The spill had to be stopped, and three missions emerged: the technical problems with stopping hot hydrocarbons gushing out at 12,000 psi into a cold environment, an oil spill on the surface that changed every day with the wind, and protecting the coastlines. The scale of this disaster dwarfed the response plans currently in place, and was so different (aimed towards something along the lines of a tanker spill than a blow out) that it required a new way of thinking. Once the response came under way, a massive job was undertaken to coordinate the efforts: all efforts needed to be coordinated in order to bring about the best results: boats on the water cleaning oil and the shorelines, and when an organization becomes complex in ways such as this, some things break down.

One thing was transparency, which Allen noted was essential in this day and age. People are armed with cameras, social media, and are willing to use them, and in this instance, while responsible parties can work on coordination and delegation, people on the ground need to be included, with the assurances that what they’re doing will be backed up by the people in charge. A transparent organization works the best, because it tends to be self-correcting. It was noted that the decision to put up cameras was a positive one, because people could see what was going on, and when things were starting to get better. Requests to put a time delay on the video were denied, because it would damage perceptions that the company and cleanup efforts were honest and doing what they were supposed to.

Coming out of these three disasters, Allen imparted several key things when it came to leadership. The first is that anyone can be a better leader, and that the best leaders never stop learning. They continue to learn and adapt to the situation, and from prior disasters or incidents, lessons can be learned. Lessons 9/11 informed Katrina, which informed Haiti, which in turn informed the Gulf Oil Response.

Second, leaders cannot lead from the top down, the bottom up or from the center: they lead from everywhere. The human element of any response is a key thing, and people who are working to address a problem need to be empowered to do their jobs, with someone backing them up from the top. According to Allen: “To be a better leader, you must become a better person,”

What strikes me as most relevant to these points is not that they are only applicable to major disasters, but to any number of instances that most people face, and the key to this talk was that leadership can be found everywhere, in everyone: people need to recognize when actions are needed, by managing the appropriate resources available in the proper way.

What struck me the most was how focused Adm. Allen was throughout the talk, especially when he spoke about social media and the 24/7 newscycle that we now have in the country. They key element seems to be to adapt and work with people on the ground who want to help, but to remain focused on the task at hand, regardless of perceptions, pundits and political elements who have their own agendas. His view of BP clashed with the perceptions of the public and that of the media, and while he noted that they had their own issues in their image, they approached the problem with the best of intentions where it was needed: without the resources and expertise that BP provided and applied to the spill, the crisis would have been much worse.

In the future, he noted, there needs to be a better doctrine to shift from short-term solutions to long term recovery for places such as Katrina, Haiti and the Gulf, which in and of itself will require new ways of thinking about problems. In the meantime, lessons need to be learned for how to tackle the next unforeseen problem that will face the country: natural disasters, attacks, industrial mistakes, and so forth are all possibilities, and the only sure solution will be someone who can find an effective way to recognize the problems and apply the proper response needed. Such effective leaders should empower those under their supervision, and will be ones who will learn from the experiences and lessons of the past.