We always make it a habit this time of year to re-read Stephen Ambrose's remarkable account of the 101st Airborne Division's defense of the town of Bastogne, Belgium, in December, 1944.
When Germany launched a surprise attack known as the Battle of the Bulge, all General Eisenhower had in reserves were the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions. Both were ordered into the battle. Trucked across France, the 101st marched into Bastogne to stop elite German Panzer divisions while other U.S. soldiers fled in panic. And stop them cold they did.
With nothing to rely on other than each other, the 101st (including the famous 506th PIR whose exploits at Bastogne were detailed in Ambrose's Band Of Brothers) took up front line positions in the woods of Bastogne, dug foxholes in the bitter cold (the coldest winter in Europe in almost 100 years) and once again held off the best troops and tanks of Germany with nothing more than their rifles and each other. Their story is a remarkable one. No men ever better exemplified the courage of the American solider.
Bastogne exemplified the tradition of American soldiers enduring more than was humanly possible and refusing to leave the line, even while injured, so long as their fellow solider- their brother in arms- was still fighting.
American soldiers don't march into combat in summer clothes in the dead of winter anymore. They don't dig foxholes in sub zero weather anymore, they don't endure horrific artillery barrages and they don't fight tanks with rifles while hobbling on frostbitten feet anymore.
But they still exhibit remarkable courage. They still go into war zones in foreign lands and fight despots and terrorists and put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms and liberate people they've never met.
Bastogne was a startling example of the mettle of the American solider. But it didn't start there and it doesn't end there. It continues today in places like Bagram, Kandahar, and Forward Operating Base Delaram, where today on Christmas Eve, the 3rd Battalion of the 4th Marine will - as they have done every day during eight combat rotations, get out of their tents and patrol a 2000 kilometer stretch of Afghanistan, putting their lives on the line for
their fellow Marine, and in a larger sense, for all of us.
Thank you just doesn't seem enough, but it's all we have.
Thank you and Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and whatever other holiday or tradition you may follow, we wish you the joyous peace of the season, and a happy and healthy, safe and prosperous New Year.