By Sue Ann Rybak
(Part one can be found here.)
Chestnut Hill native Minturn Wright, 90, who now lives in the Hill at Whitemarsh, recalled vividly his horrific experiences in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle of the war, in a recent interview with the Local. (An official report by the U.S. Department of the Army lists 105,102 casualties, including 19,246 killed, 62,489 wounded and 26,612 captured or missing. The German Armed Forces High Command’s official figure for all German losses on the Western Front during the battle from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, was 81,834 German casualties, other estimates are as high as 125,000.)
According to Wright, “No vehicles would be able to get out because the roads were completely blocked. The radio truck we would attempt to get out, but everyone else would have to walk. Well, I was the driver of the radio truck because I was the youngest of the four men, so there I was lucky again. That was a horrendous night; we drove without lights through the forest with no road. Just driving into trees, I had to back up. This went on all night long. Two or three times we heard shelling and saw a flash of light. We were very confused. During the two days that we were in the village before we retreated, our truck was shelled twice.
“In fact, the whole area was bombarded by German artillery. A couple of my buddies were injured with shrapnel. There were a number of deaths but none in my particular group. We were shelled several times at night while we were held up in this little town in Belgium. The Germans had brought up radio directional finders so they could zero in on our radio signal. At this point headquarters was about 500 feet behind the rifle infantry; everybody was at the front line. And the colonel had his headquarters in the post office in this village, and we had parked our truck outside of it.”
Wright said they tried sending messages while driving the truck, but the radio reception was too bad. “It was the Solstice, Dec. 21, and it was a bitterly cold winter. I said, ‘We’ve got to stop the truck,’ and I pulled into a field and got in the back of the truck with our team chief to try and receive these messages that were coming in. The other two fellows were sitting upfront riding shotgun. It was pitch dark, and all of a sudden you hear this screaming of incoming shells; there was no target anywhere near us — except us. The shells landed in a circle right around the truck. It didn’t hit the truck at all. It was unbelievable, but we got out of there fast.”
Later that night, Wright was walking out of the post office to do a late-night radio shift and hearing “the screaming of incoming shells. Just as I ran underneath the truck for protection, the shells landed between the truck and the building. Four hours ago they were aiming for the truck, but now I thought they were aiming for me personally. By Christmas Eve, we were finally withdrawn from the line. We lost 9,000 men in nine days. I’ll never forget Christmas Eve because that was the day the sun came out for the first time since the battle had begun. The entire 10 days of the battle were under heavy grey clouds, and not a single plane could fly.
“On the 24th there was a brilliant blue sky. Thousands of airplanes were flying overhead. You could see the anti-aircraft flack bursting into the black clouds around the plane. I remember seeing a plane hit and turn on its side. The wing fell off, and the plane plummeted towards the ground, and then you would see white puffs — parachutes — in the blue sky. It was really an uplifting sight to see those airplanes taking off!”
Wright paused and said, “I am sorry to say that as we regained ground that Germans had seized, we saw the results of atrocities, some perpetuated by Americans. One sight I will never forget is coming into the village of Stavelot the day after the Americans and Allied troops [took the village back]. It was the middle of January, and there were at least two feet of snow on the ground. The fellows who were stringing the telephone lines to connect the various radios had gotten a hold of frozen German corpses and stood them up as telephone poles stuck in the snow banks and strung the lines through their outstretched hands. It was awful.”
Wright shared his thoughts on President Truman’s decision to drop the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. “Recently, there has been a widespread view that dropping the A-bomb was the greatest atrocity of the first order because 80,000 people were killed,” he said. “I have never had the slightest sympathy for that attitude because how do you judge whether something is an atrocity or not? How do you balance the various factors that were present at the time? I think the dropping of the bomb may have well saved my life, not to mention whatever the estimates are of American soldiers. I have no trouble with them deciding to do it, given what President Truman knew at the time. The human race is not composed of saints. We are selfish, competitive and opportunistic, and the losers lose and the winners win, but at the same time we have to be compassionate and forgive.”