This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945.
In this letter, published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald on February 2, 1945 – a full month after it was written – Irvin Schwartz reflected on a holiday season spent amid the largest and deadliest battle in American history. Schwartz, an anti-tank gunner in the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Army Division, played an integral role in the Battle of Dom Bütgenbach.
Schwartz’s unit was rushed into the Battle of the Bulge on December 17, 1944, one day after a massive German assault tore into American forces in the Ardennes Forest on the border of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. Schwartz and his comrades in the anti-tank company of the 26th Regiment were crucial to the regiment’s defense of a Belgian manor known as Dom Bütgenbach, halfway between the towns of Büllingen and Bütenbach. As the Battle of the Bulge continued to rage, Schwartz took time to write a letter home to the Press-Herald in his native Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. It was his first letter to his former employer since the Battle of the Bulge began on December 16th.
January 2, 1945
Hello, Mr. Reber:
There was little peace for soldiers on the Western Front this Christmas Day. New Year’s Day wasn’t much more peaceful but it showed turkey. On Christmas Eve the only thing to remind me that another Christmas Day had arrived was the blazing interior of a large church just across a narrow field from my foxhole. It was set on fire by the Germans early in the morning of the 24th.
With snow on the ground, on fence posts, and dropping from the trees, at night, the reflection coming through the church windows and doors more or less produced a Christmas-like scene here on the battlefield. The only Christmas lights were the red and green flares splashing the skies. There were no bells – only the [roar] of artillery, the thud of bombs, and the chatter of rifle fire.
There was no warmth, no cheer, no Christmas trees, no toys, no giving of presents, and no Santa Claus. In fact, we found little time to stop to think what the day actually meant to so many millions of Americans. It was white along the front on December 25th, but to us it wasn’t Christmas. It couldn’t have been. Not even with the hundreds of Christmas cards and packages from loved ones at home, many of which were given to us on Christmas Eve. Just at the hour when we would have exchanged gifts had we been back in America.
Troops received turkey and chicken where battle lulls permitted and the food was prepared in field kitchens set up in houses and even schools in the towns and villages. Further to the rear of the lines, soldiers attended church services and I was told that civilians were seen walking to services throughout the day. But right here, from where we can shake hands with the German soldier, should we care to, many men failed to taste anything but the usual “C” ration meal – has or stew. Such was Christmas Day on the Western Front. We didn’t expect a lull and surely there wasn’t one in my sector of the war.
Our airmen stationed in England, France, and Belgium undoubtedly enjoyed their holiday dish. But I also add that they didn’t forget us that day, and Forts, Libs, Marauders, Thunderbolts, Typhoons, Spitfires, Lightnings, and Mustangs were plentiful. They gave “Hitler and Son” a delicious dinner of bombs, and at night I heard the Royal Air Force’s Beaufighters, Lancasters, and Mosquitoes give the Nazis a “second helping. But Christmas Day here was simply another day.
New Year’s Eve was observed strictly in warfare manner. There were no church bells, no plant whistles, no fire sirens, and no songs to greet the new and victorious year. But there were more than the usual number of rifle shots, and they, with the bombs and artillery roars, marked the close of ’44 and the birth of ’45.
On January 1, 1945, while America enjoyed its world-famous football games, the war for freedom continued. Only few exchanged “Happy New Year” greetings.
Late in the afternoon, turkey was brought to us in ammunition boxes. Boxes which one hour before, and one hour later, were used to transport ammo to us, and we in turn sent it toward the “Krauts.” It was New Year’s Day but, just another day to us. Another day of war and another day of work.
There was little peace these days for soldiers on the Western Front.
S/Sgt. Irvin R. Schwartz,
This was the first letter written to the Press-Herald by Schwartz after his promotion to staff sergeant as the Battle of the Bulge raged in December 1944.
The announcement of Schwartz’s promotion was published in the Press-Herald on January 19, 1945.
Staff Sergeant Schwartz penned more about his experience in the Battle of Dom Bütenbach – we will explore that in next week’s letter.
Featured Image: Members of Schwartz’s 26th Infantry Regiment in Belgium amid the Battle of the Bulge – U.S. Army