It's a privilege to be here as a representative of the men and women who served in World War II during the period 1941 to 1945. The eagle sculpture, unveiled today, is a beautiful and fitting tribute to the service people from all of America's military conflicts.
Aside from being a service veteran still around from World War II, my wife reminded me, when I was asked to make a few remarks, that the division with which I served throughout the war was the 101st Airborne Division. Its shoulder patch was the head of an eagle and the division was known as "The Screaming Eagles." So perhaps it is fitting that I be here today. All of that division's activity centered in Europe. In 1944 I participated in the Normandy campaign and the invasion of Holland. However, the World War II military operation for which that division - 101st - is now most recalled was its part in the Battle of the Bulge in mid-December 1944. The Battle of the Bulge was fought in a heavily forested, hilly section of Southeastern Belgium where, because of the inhospitable terrain, there were few good roads through the area. A little town by the name of Bastogne happened to be one of the few crossroads towns in the area, offering a way to move from Germany into France.
Herr Hitler, in a desperate last gamble in the West, threw all available forces he could muster into attacking the Americans and capturing this town. The Allies were caught by complete surprise. They thought the Germans were finished by this time in the war and completely incapable of carrying out such an ambitious attack. Hitler counted on the weather in December being overcast so the Allies, with their superior air control of the skies, would be unable to fly to protect and supply American troops on the ground. At this point General Eisenhower realized that the Allies had a real problem on their hands and rushed the 101st from its quarters in France into the little town of Bastogne by truck in the middle of the night on December 19. Shortly after the 101st reached Bastogne, the Germans arrived and surrounded the town with superior panzer forces. We became the hole in the doughnut. The fighting was fierce as the Germans tried to break through the 15 mile perimeter the Americans had established around the town. At one point the Germans even sent envoys under a white flag to enter the Bastogne area and demand that the Americans surrender. It was at this time our division Commander, General Anthony McAuliffe, now entirely surrounded by the enemy and running short of supplies, gave his answer to the German's envoys. It was a one word response, "Nuts." The Germans were puzzled by this bit of American slang but then one of the American officers explained to them, "If you don't know what 'Nuts' means, it's the same thing as 'Go to Hell!" The German officers, who felt confident the Americans would surrender, were surprised but returned to their lines and the battle resumed. The encirclement of the 101st lasted for 6 days. Then General Patton, with his American forces, broke through cordon from the South and the siege was over. The Germans never got beyond Bastogne and Hitler's plans to get Nazi troops to the English Channel ended. It was his final battle in the West. Later, at a ceremony the following March, General Eisenhower presented the entire 101st with a Presidential Citation.
After the war I returned to the United States in 1945, I was positively dazzled by all the bright lights of New York and Chicago and every where else in the country after the blackouts of my 2 and a half years in war torn Europe. I finished college. But the men I shared foxholes with - especially at Bastogne - are the ones I visit and still keep in contact with while I've lost track of most of the people with whom I went to college. The military bond proved to be the stronger attachment. In the years that followed, I twice returned to visit Bastogne for nostalgic battlefield visits as did some of the men I served with.
World War II was the pivotal experience of my life and an irreplaceable education. Thereafter all else flowed from survival of that event - life, wholeness, marriage, children. Remaining alive was quite random, totally accidental, completely without design. Any future I had depended upon getting through those times. All the rest of my life I revisited that period and wondered why I was among those who made it through.
But one thing I know: This brief, unexpected, instructive interruption in my young manhood was one I have never regretted. And like this beautiful sculpture, it had something to do with eagles