Nothing brings the horrors of war home to a reader so much as a book written by those have taken part in it. The same goes for those funny little stories that shed just a bit of light on an otherwise gloomy military experience. War Stories of the Battle of the Bulge, edited by Michael Green and James D. Brown, is one of those books. Told by those who lived during the frigid battle, Hitler’s last gasp attack in the West just as the Allied soldiers were dreaming of being home soon, it is a riveting book for anybody with an interest in the the Second World War.
The editors of this book owe a lot to the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Association, an organization that keeps alive the camaraderie that these soldiers felt all those years ago. They put out a quarterly newsletter called The Bulge Bugle (I love that play on spelling), and many of the stories in this book are taken from that publication. Others were sent directly to the editors as a result of an ad placed in that publication. Green and Brown acknowledge this at the outset and thank the their contributors profusely. They also mention at the end of each soldier’s entry whether it came from the publication or not.
The book comprises a series of recollections of soldiers from all branches of the military that served in the battle, from lowly privates to mid-level generals, even a couple of British soldiers as well. There are front-line troops, artillerymen, supply officers, and so many others. Stories range from humorous to horrifying; some are sad and others uplifting, including the story of some Belgian villagers sharing their meager Christmas dinner with a couple of lonely GIs. Some are quite long, running over multiple pages, while others are very short vignettes. All of them are told from vivid memory.
The reader almost gets a feeling of old war stories told over a campfire or a beer down at the local pub. This can be both a good and a bad thing. Some of the longer ones are told exactly like an old soldier lost in memories, which is wonderful if they’re talking to you but kind of painful to read. I really hate to say that, too, because I honor all of the men who served and who contributed to this book. But I do have to say I was glad when I was through some of them.
Most of the stories are told in a straightforward, easy-to-read fashion, however. What’s more, they’re interesting because they suck you in to the frozen wastes of 1944 Belgium, either feeling the horror of your fellow soldiers being overrun or maybe some funny little incident that makes you smile even as you’re reading some other terrible story. The entries that mention the German massacre of American soldiers at Malmedy are especially harsh, as there are no charitable feelings toward the Germans after that point.
War Stories of the Battle of the Bulge is a wonderful book for those interested in studying World War II. It has interesting stories in it, ones that are a bit too personal to make it into a general history book about the battle. These are the stories of the men on the ground.
And, while it’s not a perfect book, I nonetheless salute everyone who contributed. They are heroes in my book.