OSWEGO, NY – Sixty-nine 64 years ago, they fought in the greatest land battle that was ever waged. Now, they gather to keep alive the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
More than two dozen members of Oswego County’s surviving veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and other battles met at Bridie Manor recently. The event was spearheaded by former Oswego city councilor and World War II veteran John Canale.
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.
Among the members attending were Ted Kitts, Jim Sullivan, Len Maniccia, Tony Leotta, Bill Hogan and his grandson, Collin.
“We have been together about 12 years and our ranks are growing thinner,” Canale said. “We have lost several members in recent years. The first one that comes to mind is a member of my family, my brother-in-law, Matthew Bush. Some of the others are Charlie Lamb and Carl Dickinson.”
He also recognized former Oswego County Legislator, Paul Santore for facilitating Sen. Patty Ritchie in getting Canale’s group inducted into the NYS Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
“You and I would not be doing what we’re doing today. It would be a lot different,” John Kaple Jr. said. “If it wasn’t for the Battle of the Bulge, it’d be a whole different story today. We’d be walking a different step. The Second World War was the one, it had to be taken care of; tyrany had to be stopped.”
News accounts of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge were a bit exaggerated in the Syracuse newspapers, he said reading from one of his clippings. It made a lot of families nervous, including his.
His father came back six months after he was born, Kaple Junior said.
“I’m John Jr. First thing (my father) said to my mother, my grandmother, was, ‘What did you name him junior for?’” he said.
They were afraid he was never coming home, they told him. Tapping the newspaper clipping, he added, “This is all my mother, grandmother and aunt knew. He wasn’t coming home. I’m junior.”
His father didn’t talk about the war until many years later.
“There were 152 men in my father’s company. I never realized that of that 152 men – he was one of two to come out, the only one to walk out, the other is in a wheelchair,” he said.
Leotta presented Canale with an indepth account of the battle for his files.
“I was 11 years old listening to the radio in Granby, at a a quarter to seven in the evening. It was mandatory in our home to listen to the news at a quarter of seven, listen to Lowell Thomas report,” he said. “We are very grateful for al that you men did.”
Joe Murabito served in the Pacific Theatre.
“These kind of affairs should never be forgotten. Too often what you did and what the rest of us have done soon is forgotten by the public,” he told the group. “We must always remember what the veterans have done for this country. We should not be forgotten – ever!”
“As we dwindle in our ranks, we become less and less out in the public. That’s when things go under; people forget that there ever was a war. They forget that there are still veterans out there that are suffering, they’re still hurting. I was lucky. I came back from the Pacific. Why? Because I could swim!” he continued. “The thing of it is this, each and every one of ya in your own way, you did your part. Hold your head high. You did a great job. And, the world owes you a great gratitude for what you did over there to relieve the tyrany in Europe. It was not easy. It never was, to see your comrades lose their lives right in front of ya. We all had that happen, we’re never going to forget it. We don’t like to talk about it and we generally don’t. It’s not because we don’t want to be made aware of it. We don’t want to be forgotten. There are still too many out there that need our assistance. The job is not done.”
Canale formed the small group around 2002 to honor the local men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Taking nothing away from the larger veterans’ organization, Canale explained that “smaller is better.” He said he wanted a group just for the local Battle of the Bulge veterans – specifically to honor them.
The group has about 40 members; around 15 attended the recent meeting.
“This is a good showing,” Canale said, noting the advanced age of the members. “This is probably the most we’ve had together at one time in quite a while. And to have those who fought in the Pacific and other wars join us is wonderful.”
“Many of the GIs who were in the greatest land battle that was ever fought, came from right here in Oswego,” Canale added. “Everywhere I go, whenever I have an opportunity, I brag about this all of the time. I think sometime these men here are long forgotten.”
The group also includes some veterans who didn’t fight in the battle. Most of the members, Canale included, are octogenarians. Some are in their 90s, he noted.
He describes the members of the group as “patriots” and “heroes.”
“I am doing this to keep the legend of the Battle of the Bulge alive. These men, in my opinion, are the forgotten men of World War II,” Canale explained. “It was the greatest land battle ever fought. It lasted a month and we lost upwards of 81,000 troops.”
Canale said he has looked through several history books and discovered they go into great detail about certain battles.
“But,” he said holding his thumb and index finger less than an inch apart. “This is about all they have to say about the Battle of the Bulge!”
Canale claims many historians haven’t done enough to tell the story of the Battle of the Bulge.
As long as he’s living, he will keep the legend of the battle alive, 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, he continued.
“This battle actually raged for six weeks in knee-deep snow before the original front lines were restored,” he 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 added.
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.
Canale said he doesn’t want people to ever forget the sacrifices made that day.
“It’s my objective to get these guys to get together as often as we can to perpetuate the great work that they did in World War II,” Canale said. “They are truly the greatest guys I know. I fought with, and almost died, with them.”
Canale said he will keep the group going as long as possible.
“The men enjoy these meetings and sharing stories,” he said. “I must be doing something right.”