OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Sixty-five 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.
Nearly two dozen members of Oswego CountyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
The meeting began on a somber note as Canale called the roll of the members who’ve passed away since the last meeting.
He plans to have some masses said for the departed members.
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 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ specifically to honor them.
The group has about 40 members; about 18 members and a couple guests attended the meeting.
It was a good showing, Canale said, noting the advanced age of the members.
“This is the largest group we’ve ever had. So I hope we can expand it Ã¢â‚¬â€œ twice!” Canale said.
One of the guests was second lieutenant Justin Baum with the 91st military police battalion, Fort Drum.
“I have not been deployed overseas yet, but I will be by the end of the year,” he told the veterans. “You spend so much time training and getting ready that when that date rolls around you are ready to get over there and do your job.”
Other guests included legislators Paul Santore and Mary Flett as well as city council candidate Miles Becker and county legislature candidate Rick Bishop.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Many of the GIs who were in the greatest land battle that was ever fought, came from right here in Oswego,Ã¢â‚¬Â Canale said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“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. This was the largest turnout weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had. I hope to get 20 or more at the next gathering.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“I landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and I went through five major battles Ã¢â‚¬â€œ including the Battle of the Bulge,” added Fred Lockwood, the group’s vice chairman. “I had two or three scratches; I could have went back to the aid station, but I also knew that was five miles back. Sometimes, they would need 50 men and it didn’t matter what division they came from Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they’d send ya back to battle.”
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 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.
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,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This battle actually raged for six weeks in knee-deep snow before the original front lines were restored,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 added.
By the end of January 1945, the Americans had retaken all ground they had lost.
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 doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want people to ever forget the sacrifices made that day.
Leonard Lambert was with the Third Army during the battle.
“I was asked to send a driver up to the forward eschelon. So I did. This was our initial introduction to the battle. The driver went up and when he came back, some of my men asked him, ‘John, what is it like up there?'” he said. “We could hear the firing, but we weren’t that close to it yet. They wanted to know what it was like up there. Well, this is the kind of fella you need at a time like this. He said, ‘You won’t believe it. Those idiots are using live ammunition!'”
“I applaud all of you heroes here today,” Legislator Santore said. “You all truly are heroes. You stood up against impossible odds and faced an enemy that was supposedly superior and essentially gave them a raspberry. Thank you all so very much.”
“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.
“None of us over there thought we were ever coming back to Oswego, New York, alive. That’s why we get together and kind of reminisce. The men enjoy these meetings and sharing stories,” he said. “I must be doing something right.”