Seventy Christmases ago, American soldiers, many fresh out of high school, were struggling for survival against a darkness that would not relent, even in the face of great loss. In Europe, Germany launched a surprise attack mainly through Belgium's southeastern forests that would become the bloodiest battle in the European Theater. In the Pacific, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other engagements still needed to be won, at great costs. As North Central Florida pauses today to celebrate, two Alachua County veterans recount their memories of Christmas during World War II and beyond, reflecting on how the difficulties of commemorating the holiday in wartime have given it extra meaning today
The jeep carries Lt. Frank Towers, the driver, and Towers' two guards along the shortcut: a logging trail that takes them directly over the hill instead of the circuitous route around.
For 27-year-old Towers, a liaison officer in the National Guard, it's one of many trips from 30th Division headquarters, four miles in the rear, to Malmedy, Belgium, named from the Latin A malo mundarum, "the place of bad confluence," where floodwaters long ago leaped over banks and pounded into the city.
There in Malmedy, home to 3,000, is a hotel, the setting of a big feast to come. Soldiers holding positions around the town are to be rotated in for the treat, a break during this special time from canned meat, chocolate bars, powdered drinks and cereal bars — some of the ingredients in a balanced but unlike-home K ration box.
At the hill's summit, Towers and his men hear planes soaring overhead sometime near 3 p.m., nothing unusual for a war-torn continent. A total of 18 U.S. heavy bombers. A wonderful sight to behold. The Germans, who eight days earlier threw no fewer than 200,000 of their countrymen forward in a desperate final offensive, are going to catch hell... (see more at: http://www.gainesville.com/)
- WWII Army Veteran Frank Towers poses at his home in Brooker, Fla., Thursday, December 18, 2014