History Repeats

Reprinted from PN December 2010

Some of the most historic battles in U.S. military history took place in Decembers, during the Christmas season.

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On December 25, 1944, in the Hürtgen Forest, Germany, American soldiers hunkered in foxholes were undergoing some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. It had been going on since September 14, and no end was in sight. The allies were fighting trench warfare in an interconnected link of villages and towns backed up by fortifications, tank traps, and minefields. They faced determined German defenders led by Field Marshal Walter Model, one of the most brilliant tactical commanders in the German Army.

The Germans’ defense of the Hürtgen Forest area was necessary to the launching of the Battle of the Bulge, through the Ardennes area of the forest. The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16. It resulted in major U.S. forces being surrounded and was the last major offensive of the Wehrmacht in World War II. When the fighting was over on February 10, 1945, and the Germans were in retreat, the allied forces had lost 33,000 men to the Germans’ 28,000. It went down in U.S. military history as one of the “bloodiest” battles, even more costly than Omaha Beach.

In December 1952, American forces were in full retreat after severe losses of men and material resulting from the unanticipated entry of Communist Chinese forces into the Korean War. Chinese forces had crossed the Yalu River, the border between China and Korea, and attacked allied forces in great strength. Up to that time, the allies had pushed the North Korean forces back to the point where victory seemed evident.

Despite the retreat, some of the most historic battles in U.S. military history took place during the December pullback. Thirty thousand allied troops were surrounded by 60,000 Chinese troops in the Chosin Reservoir area. The temperatures had plunged to 35° below zero. Overwhelmed and surrounded on all sides, the allied forces, primarily U.S. Marines, were instructed to try to break out and head south to the coast.

Fierce fighting ensued for miles as the allied forces retreated to the port of Hungnam to board naval ships to save the remaining forces. Within months, however, under the leadership of General Matthew Ridgeway, the allies had regained the offensive and were pushing the Chinese and North Koreans back past the 38th parallel.

With the negotiations between the North Vietnamese and the United States in 1972 failing over a mutually satisfactory cease-fire agreement between the forces, President Richard M. Nixon ordered Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to send an ultimatum to the North Vietnamese government. The gist of his December 14 message was that if the North Vietnamese did not return to the negotiating table within 72 hours, “grave consequences” would result. The North Vietnamese ignored Kissinger’s ultimatum, and an American military operation dubbed “Linebacker II” went into action.

Linebacker II placed in action the combined aerial forces of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. The intent was an unrestricted continuous bombing offensive against North Vietnam by 207 B-52 heavy bombers based in Guam and Thailand and additional fighter-bombers from naval carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin and air force bases in Thailand.

 The offensive took place December 18–29. The damage from the bombing campaign inside North Vietnam was severe. The large bombers had heavy losses from surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft guns. The losses to the more maneuverable fighter-bombers were significantly less due to their jamming ability and their prior experience in operations in the north. The North Vietnamese agreed to start discussions again on January 2, 1973. Operation Linebacker II was over after 1,510 aircraft sorties with the loss of 27 American aircraft.

When you look at the time frames in these battles, they were during the Christmas season. As we enter the holidays, we can look back at World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and now the Gulf War. Americans have always been willing to fight for the freedoms they believe in and enjoy, even during our most sacred holidays. We consider the preservation of these liberties sacrosanct and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve them. That willingness places a tremendous burden on the war fighters and their families.

God bless all of them and their families this holiday season.  


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