Monday, May 27, 2013

“Nuts!”: The Most Famous Phrase of The War

By Nicholas Stix

Originally published on August 19, 2011

[Postscript, May 27, 2013: Earlier tonight, my boy and I saw “Wild Bill” Wellman’s 1949 masterpiece, Battleground, for the second time. It was as moving and funny as the first time. It was written by Robert Pirosh, who had been a big comedy screenwriter in pre-war Hollywood, and who had fought in Bastogne as a master sergeant in the Army. This time, I wondered as I watched if the Sgt. Kinney character (James Whitmore) was based on a guy Pirosh had served with, or on Pirosh himself.]


Battleground, 1949. The first movie depiction of the Siege of Bastogne.

I never forgot it. When I was maybe eight years old, I saw the picture, The Battle of the Bulge, for the first time. I didn’t get the point of the title, but I did get “Nuts!”

That was the response by young Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe to the demand by the Gerries, who had laid siege to us shortly before Christmas in the Belgian town of Bastogne, that we surrender.

Gen. McAuliffe’s one-word response became one of the most famous statements to come out of the war, and became synonymous with the American can-do spirit.

Beginning on December 16, the Germans had made one last, bold, mad offensive, and broken through Allied lines, causing a “bulge.”

Bastogne was a hub of seven roads, which made it crucial for the Germans’ westward thrust, and thus crucial for us to stop them.

Bastogne was hopeless. We had no air support. The town was occupied by the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division, crack soldiers, to be sure, but men who were overmatched in numbers and weaponry by the encircling German forces. And yet, our boys held until the bad weather cleared, and we could get them air support and fresh supplies. We had inspired leadership, fresh troops, and good morale, while the Germans were weary, and their morale low. And then it was the Gerries who were surrendering.

And that helped break the back of the German offensive.

My mom says that my late Uncle Irwin, who made it to sergeant in the war, and then went back for more in Korea, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but I don’t know if he was at Bastogne.

During Memorial Day weekend, my 11-year-old and I both had the pleasure of watching Battleground for the first time.


General Anthony Clement McAuliffe as a major general (he would eventually wear four stars)

…for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Acting Commander, 101st Airborne Division, in action against enemy forces from 17 to 26 December 1944, at Bastogne, Belgium.

During this period General McAuliffe was in command of the 101st Airborne Division during the siege of Bastogne, Belgium, by overwhelming enemy forces. Though the city was completely surrounded by the enemy, the spirit of the defending troops under this officer's inspiring, gallant leadership never wavered.
Their courageous stand is epic.

General McAuliffe continuously exposed himself to enemy bombing, strafing, and armored and infantry attacks to personally direct his troops, utterly disregarding his own safety.

Brigadier General McAuliffe's courage, fearless determination and inspiring, heroic leadership exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 101st Airborne Division, and the United States Army.
[Tips ‘o the Army helmet to Larry Auster and HOFFAMVA.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my uncles was in the 28th Infantry Division. He was among the members of the 28th who were at Bastogne along with the 101st.

The 28th was in the path of the main German attack on December 16, 1944. He told me everybody around him "either got killed, captured, ran off, or fell back to Bastogne."

When I was around 12-13 years old, "NBC Saturday Night at the Movies" showed "Battleground." My father, who was in Patton's Third Army during the final push liked "Battleground." He sometimes didn't like war movies, but he did this one.

David In TN