Litchfield man’s involvement in the ‘Battle of the Bulge’
The Battle of the Bulge in World War II is difficult for Fred La Londe of Litchfield to revisit, but his memory of the events, places and people involved 67 years ago is incredible. La Londe spent more than 200 consecutive days battling the German Nazi forces starting in Northern France in June of 1944. “We never got a rest,” he said. He was with the U.S. Third Army, 6th Armored Division, 777th Anti-Aircraft (AA) Batallion Self-Propelled (SP). For La Londe his military life started in March of 1943 at the age of 19. He enlisted in the Army two weeks before he was to be drafted. “I was one of those who was going to be drafted, so I volunteered,” he said. He took basic training at Fort Sheridan, Illinois and then went on for more training at Tennessee Maneuvers and Camp Davis, North Carolina. He was then shipped to England where he spent three months for advanced training in the anti-aircraft division. He served a total of three years and at the age of 22 he landed back in New York on Dec. 1, 1945. “We were trained to go into North Africa but that ended. Then we were going into Sicily and that changed when they opened it up in the Europe Theater of Operations (ETO). We were boarding the Landing Ship Transport (LST) and started to cross the English Channel. Rumor was that we were going to Norway, but instead we landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. On June 8th, two days after D-Day, we landed in Normandy. We fought all summer and fall in Northern France and around the cities of Nancy and Metz. We lost almost all of our tanks trying to capture Metz. Finally we took it at a high cost of men and material. Lots or rain and knee-deep mud. One river after another to cross and each one took its toll. We bogged down in the Saar Basin. We tried for weeks to capture Saarbrucken but the Germans were too strong. By then it was December and the Nazis made their big push to split the Americans and British and drive on to try to capture Antwerp — the big supply port for the allies. This all became known as the Battle of the Bulge. It was in this setting that lasted about six weeks of fierce give and take between the two sides.” “We came back one day and they said we are moving north. The Germans have broken out. That was good news to me, because we would have never made it out of Saar. That was rough. It was supposed to be a secret move. We had to remove all the numbers off the vehicles. We knew we were going to Belgium but we didn’t know where we would run into them (Germans). It ended up we got into Luxemburg and spent a night there and they shoved us right into Bastogne. That was the heart of the battle. What I remember most was the snow and the cold. We spent 30 days outside. We slept on the ground, farm shacks, a shed … wherever you were… under tanks, trucks.” “The battles went back and forth. We’d push them up one day and they would push us back tomorrow,” remembers La Londe. It was called the ‘bloody Bastogne’ — 30 days of freezing hell! It was the great turning point of the bulge.” It was a grueling ordeal. Nine long, bitter-cold days were used to push back the enemy four miles, taking the ground astride the Longvilly-Bourcy highway and the towns of Wardin, Mageret, Benonchamps, Arloncourt, Oubourcy, Longvilly and Michamps. Germans pulled back from the western-most tip of the salient, and the 6th Division ploughed forward. Troine, Crendal, Lullange, Hoffelt and Hachiville fell quickly to tank-infantry teams making five-mile dashes through heavy snow. Strong rear-guard action was encountered, but Asselborn, Weiler, Basbellain, Biwisch and Troisvierges were retaken in two days. The enemy’s Ardeness salient was wiped out completely during the next three days. Wilwerdange, Briedfeld and the high ground astride the Skyline Drive were captured. “The Germans parachuted combat teams of eight or more troops dressed in full American uniforms and equipment to confuse our operations. They all spoke English and knew all the slang of the everyday G.I. Their job was to disrupt communications and mess up traffic by moving road signs so we didn’t know where to go if we had to get somewhere. One of our soldiers in our company noticed one of the Americans wore captain bars on his collar but had a Private First Class (PFC) patch on his shoulder and realized these were Germans not Americans. We surrounded the vehicles and took these make-believe-Americans as prisoners.” “It was in Malmedy, Belgium on Dec. 17, that the Nazis captured 84 American soldiers, tied their hands behind their backs and machine-gunned them all to death. This became known as the Malmedy Massacre. It took place on a small country crossroad. There was heavy snow on the ground and in full view of a few local Belgium people. No Germans were ever taken to justice about the Malmedy Massacre after the war ended.” By Jan. 26, the enemy, with losses of 2,298 prisoners, 87 tanks, 33 big guns, 17 vehicles and one JU-88, had withdrawn across the Ourthe River, more than 20 miles north of Bastogne. La Londe said he realized the war was over when they got to Rochlitz and on the other side of the river the Russians were waiting for the Americans. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle fought by the Americans in World War II. 600,000 American troops were involved in the battle. The Americans lost 81,000 men while the Germans lost 100,000 killed, wounded and captured. The Battle of the Bulge was the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies in World War II. In the words of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchhill, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory. Indeed, in terms of participation and losses, the battle of the Bulge is arguably the greatest battle in American military history.” Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow, who was with the 6th Armored Division, said: “Each member of the 6th Armored Division has ample reason to thrill with pride for what he and his comrades have accomplished in more than six months of uninterrupted combat.” La Londe left France November, 1945 and landed in New York on Dec. 1st, 1945. He attended the University of Minnesota and worked for Rock Island Railroad for 10 years. La Londe started his own business, Factory Wholesalers, in which he sold industrial clothing. He met his future wife, Millie Simons of Stewart, at a dance at the Lake Marion Ballroom near Hutchinson in 1948 and they were married in 1950. They have four children — two boys and two girls.