OSWEGO, NY ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ Nearly 64 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 CountyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s surviving veterans of the Battle of the Bulge met at Bridie Manor. 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,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â he said.
A city resident, a friend of Canale’s, attended along with the veterans.
She created several hanging displays honoring wounded veterans.
“I thought there’d be other public people here to honor these soldiers especially and all the soldiers,” she said. “Every solider is a hero just as Christ was a hero; they died for the same thing, each one gives up his life for us.”
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 explains that “smaller is better.” He said he wanted a group just for the local Battle of the Bulge veterans ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ specifically to honor them.
The group has about 40 members; only 15 attended the meeting.
It wasn’t a good showing – but not that bad, either, Canale said, noting the advanced age of the members.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œMany of the GIs who were in the greatest land battle that was ever fought, came from right here in Oswego,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Canale said. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œEverywhere I go, whenever I have an opportunity, I brag about this all of the time. I think sometime these men here are long forgotten.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
The group also includes some veterans who didn’t fight in the battle. Most of the members, Canale included, are octogenarians. They range in age from 80 to 89 with some in their 90s, he noted.
He challenged the members to each find one new member for the group. He hopes to increase the membership twofold by the next meeting.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a Battle of the Bulge veteran. It can be someone from World War II, from the Navy, Air Force, Marines or whatever,” he said. “I want to increase this number from 21 to at least 40 someday before I’m called to the boss upstairs.”
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.”
As long as he’s alive, he will keep the legend of the battle alive, he said.
Canale claims many historians haven’t done enough to tell the story of the Battle of the Bulge.
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.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThis battle actually raged for six weeks in knee-deep snow before the original front lines were restored,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â 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.
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 doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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 says 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.”