A soldier remembers the Battle of the Bulge, 77 years later
On Dec. 16, 1944, allied troops clashed with the Nazis in the Ardennes forest in Belgium — the start of the Battle of the Bulge. Bradford Holmes, who had been working at an Onset cranberry company until he turned 18 and joined the army, was one of the young troops at the front.
Nearly 77 years later, Holmes spoke to Wareham Week about his memories.
Three days after the battle began, on Dec. 19, he and other troops were taken as prisoners of war.
“The day we got captured, we were in this group of woods,” Holmes recalled. “First thing in the morning, they started raining all these shells down on top of us, landing in the trees. There was metal flying, and pieces of trees, limbs, flying.”
At the time he was taken prisoner, Holmes said, he was just wondering whether or not he would survive. He and his fellow soldiers were instructed to drop their ammunition and break their rifles before they started their march to a prisoner of war camp.
At night, the men slept by the roadside, just trying to stay warm enough to survive. They eventually reached a rail line and were packed into cars. Periodically, German soldiers would take out the men that had died and remove anything of value they had.
After arriving at the camp, Holmes stayed for a week or two before volunteering for a work detail to get out of the overcrowded, flea-ridden camp. Along with about 30 other soldiers, he traveled to a small town to work in a furniture factory. The men were forced to cut down trees, carry them through the deep snow and then up three flights of stairs.
Despite the back-breaking labor, Holmes and his fellow soldiers had barely anything to eat: “All you got was soup [with] rutabagas and carrots. Six men to a loaf of bread.”
Occasionally, he was able to steal from the Germans’ lunches when they went underground for shelter during an air raid.
The Germans knew the Russians were gaining on them, and one day, Holmes said, “they knew the jig was up.” When he and the other Americans woke up, the guards were gone. Holmes said everyone started walking toward where the American troops would be.
“One of our fighter planes came down so low that I could see him in the cock pit,” Holmes said. He waved at the pilot and the pilot waved back.
Eventually, Holmes reached the Americans and was flown to Camp Lucky Strike in France. He was finally able to take off the clothes he’d been wearing for months and take a shower. He and the other soldiers were also given their fill of eggnog.
He spent some time in a rehabilitation hospital in Georgia before returning to Onset.
“I was a bag of bones,” Holmes said. “Your nerves are all shot.”
He said he got back to work as soon as he could. Over the years, he worked in the cranberry and auto industries, plowed all of Onset and Point Independence, and served as an Assistant Harbormaster.
Holmes has since been honored with a Bronze Star, a Prisoner of War medal, and named the Legionnaire of the Century.
Asked about his advice for young people, Holmes said: “Keep your nose clean, go to work, and stay away from drugs.”