OSWEGO, NY – Sixty-seven years ago, they fought in the greatest land battle that was ever fought. Now, they gather to keep alive the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
More than a dozen members of Oswego County’s surviving veterans of the Battle of the Bulge met at Bridie Manor on Saturday afternoon for a holiday gathering – and book sale
The event was spearheaded by former Oswego city councilor and World War II veteran John Canale. He believes Oswego’s veterans deserve more credit for their service to this nation; it is his personal mission to ensure that happens.
To that end, with the help of several members of his group and the general public, he has published a book (“A Life’s Journey”) detailing the ordeal they faced from Dec. 16, 1944, through Jan. 25, 1945.
“The main parts of this book are real life stories,” he told Oswego County Today. “This is a book of real life stories – told by the brave men who fought there! This is a true story, this isn’t fiction. It doesn’t read like a textbook, either. I tell the stories in a very folksy way. ”
“Many of the GIs who were in the greatest land battle that was ever fought, came from right here in Oswego,” Canale continued. “Everywhere I go, whenever I have an opportunity, I brag about them all of the time. I think sometime these men here are long forgotten.”
Canale formed the small group around 2001 to honor the local men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Taking nothing away from the larger veterans’ organizations, Canale explains that “smaller is better.” He said he wanted a group just for the local Battle of the Bulge veterans – specifically to honor them.
Any profits from the book will be used to benefit the Battle of the Bulge group, Canale informed the members. “I will not make one cent. It will be put into a fund on behalf of you guys,” he said.
“The reason I am writing the book is to honor, and there are very few of them still with us, the memory of these men from the Battle of the Bulge,” Canale told the crowd multi-generational crowd of about three dozen. “These guys fought for six weeks in knee-deep snow in temperatures that I can’t believe that we did this. Men died on the countryside; I can still see it in my memory, they died from hypothermia. They didn’t have enough warm clothes, enough food.”
Canale jokes that he wasn’t there on Dec. 16, 1944, when the battle began to rage. “I was six days later. But it looks like they did a good job without me,” he said.
“People always said to me, ‘why aren’t you in the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars?’ I told them I like keep it small like me. I want to keep it small so we can have some kind of closeness,” he explained.
The group has about three dozen members, including some veterans who didn’t fight in the battle. Only about 5 attended the meeting.
Many others couldn’t make it due to their health, Canale pointed out.
Most of them, himself included, are octogenarians. They range in age from 80 to 89 with some in their 90s, he said.
In the last 10 years, seven members of the group have died, he said. The most recent member was 96 years old when he passed on, Canale added.
“We must never forget those people. Those guys were very religious about coming to our meetings. We must never forget these guys who were with us roughly 10 years ago when all this started,” he said.
At 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 16 1944, three German armies, 250,000 soldiers, attacked four American divisions, 60,000 GIs, along a 60-mile front on the German border facing the countries of Belgium and Luxemburg, Canale said.
It continued through Jan. 25, 1945.
The Germans were able to penetrate 15 miles before the Allied armies could get reinforcements in place to stop the fierce German onslaught.
“This battle actually raged for six weeks in knee-deep snow before the original front lines were restored,” Canale pointed out, adding he remembers fighting in the snow and near-zero visibility.
“It was so cold that as you went along, you’d see a man, one of our army, frozen to death fighting for his country,” he said.
More than 600,000 American soldiers and more than 500,000 Germans were involved in the largest battle of World War II.
American causalities were 81,000 and the Germans had causalities of more than 120,000. Many of those GIs came from the Oswego area, he noted.
“I can think in our battle we lost as many as 100 men in one hour. They died around us, you had to step over them,” Canale recalled.
Canale said he doesn’t want people to ever forget the sacrifices made that day.
Canale says he will keep the group going as long as possible.
“The men enjoy these meetings and sharing their stories,” he said. “I must be doing something right.”
Canale sold several copies of the book on Saturday afternoon. However, he has a few more. For more information, contact him at 343-6633.