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December 16, 2010

 

Local vet recalls Battle of the Bulge

Blodgett Mills man served as truck driver carrying troops, supplies to front line

VetBob Ellis/staff photographer
Battle of the Bulge veteran Bob Bennett of Blodgett Mills looks over medals awarded him during World War II while serving in North Africa and Europe.

By ANTHONY BORRELLI
Staff Reporter
aborrelli@cortlandstandardnews.net

BLODGETT MILLS — The Battle of the Bulge is considered one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and a critical victory for the Allies, who began their final push against the German forces.
Blodgett Mills resident Bob Bennett remembers it well.
It was bitter cold in the forested Ardennes Mountains area in Belgium, the snow was piled up 3 to 4 feet, and weapons fire was almost constant in some places.
“The Germans threw everything they had at us, and that was their last hurrah,” said Bennett, 87. “They figured if they threw enough firepower, they’d eventually break through our lines.”
The battle began 66 years ago today. It lasted a little over a month, coming to an end on Jan. 25, 1945.
At the time, Bennett was a truck driver carrying troops and other supplies with the 26th Infantry.
He spent a great deal of time shuttling troops throughout the night to their various positions near the onset of the fighting.
“They were moving troops to weak spots prone to where the Germans could break through,” he said.
Though outnumbered, the Germans pushed an attack plan they believed would divide the Allied forces. Hitler believed the Rhine posed a major geographic obstacle for the Allies and ordered all the river’s bridges destroyed.
“Now you’re getting to the point where we had air superiority,” Bennett said. “They tried to bomb the Remagen bridge because that’s how they thought we’d cross the Rhine, but we went across it on pontoon bridges.”
Not being on front lines did not spare Bennett from brushes with death. He said a major cause of injury for many troops was shrapnel from Allied or enemy anti-aircraft shells, which at times proved just as dangerous as the explosions they delivered.
He lost one friend in the battle: Eugene Brody, a Pennsylvania resident whom he had met while in the service. Brody was killed during a German air raid.
“When we heard planes, you could tell ours by the sound,” Bennett recalled. “We heard one and the rest of us dove into the first foxhole we could find, but he tried to run with others of his company into another hole, got hit by shrapnel and didn’t make it.”
Bennett came within inches of being fatally struck himself. During one engagement, Bennett lost his truck when a German tank perched nearly 100 yards off on a snow bank in wooded area opened fire on him.
“I didn’t see him until I saw the flash of the shot ... he put one through the motor of my truck, and I got out of there in a hurry,” Bennett said.
Shrapnel from the exploding shell struck him in the leg and bits of metal came within inches of fatally striking his upper body.
After the war ended, it took Bennett nearly 12 years before he would even speak of his experiences. He sometimes marvels how he was able to survive the war, but says he was glad to have served.
“I would have nightmares and avoided anything to do with it,” Bennett said. “You stop and think about it now and you don’t realize someone up above was looking out for you, that’s for sure.”
World War II veterans are becoming fewer and fewer as the years go on. There are a few others who live in Cortland County, but officials have no available records to show precisely how many.
“We’re losing over 1,000 World War II veterans a day across the United States,” said Carl Bullock, director of Cortland County Veteran’s Services.

 

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