The war against Germany was going well. Very well.
But December 1944 would prove that while the German army might be on the ropes, it had enough left to at least try to punch itself out of the corner it was in.
And so began what history calls “The Battle of Bulge.”
Patton was the only general who really had a plan. He had an absolutely brilliant intelligence staff who were convinced that something was going on in the Ardennes area.
That something turned out to be that the Germans realized we were weak in that area. Needing to do something Hitler came up with the only worthwhile plan he ever had. He laid out the plan to his astonished Generals, but gave them a time table that was almost impossible to keep, and promised them divisions and tanks that never really materialized.
His hope was that he could so unnerve the Americans and English that Germany could sue for a peace separate from anything they could get if the Russians were included.
Patton agree with the findings of his staff, and ordered them to draw up plans that would allow him to disengage from the where he was, turn at least some of his army north, and march them through the cold into that area.
When the Germans attacked, and the call came for what to do, he was able to present a plan that sent armored and infantry elements into the Bastogne area. His troops would walk the one hundred plus miles through terrible winter weather to get there, but get there they did
This is the story of one man who made that walk.
Pvt. Levi Martinez of Antonito, Colorado, remembers the walk. Before I left for Basic Training, I asked for something of his while he was in the military. He gave me his service ribbons. Right in the middle of the single bar was the ribbon for the Bronze Star. That’s when he told me his version of events.
They’d been in combat almost constantly, and then they turned north. They all knew what was going on and that the situation was dire. The only way to get there was by walking through the snow and cold.
As far as Martinez was concerned, this was the worst time this could have happened. Not long before, he’d received word that his mother had passed. The last thing he wanted was to be there. He wanted to go home and have the chance to grieve, but that wasn’t happening. He was needed right where he was.
So when the long walk started, he was in a bit of an emotional state to say the least.
“We walked, and we walked,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of rests along the way. You needed to heat, you opened an ice cold can of C-Rations and ate it out of the can while walking. You needed water, you drank along the way whiles till walking. If you needed to pee, you did so while walking.”
The bone numbing cold and walking conspired against him.
He told me that, “I remember walking and for once I felt warm. My feet were warm, and I felt tired. We weren’t getting a lot of sleep, and I found my eyes closing. Suddenly the soldier next to me grabbed me and shoved me aside. I fell over into the snow, and then he helped me up.
“‘What did you do that for?’ I asked.
“‘Wake up,’ he answered. ‘You almost stepped in front of a tank.'”
“I’d fallen asleep while walking, and he saved my life.
“But truth is, I really didn’t want to be there (who did). Like I told you, I’d gotten word that my mother had passed away, and they wouldn’t let me go home. So for three days, I walked, brooding over it, and getting angrier and angrier.”
What happened next is one of those things that sounds impossible, but impossible things happen on the battlefield all the time. Martinez received the Bronze Star for what happened.
Levi showed me a fading old picture of him receiving the medal, and the citation. The citation reads “By effectively using fire and maneuver, Pvt. Levi Martinez single handedly captured an enemy machine gun nest and crew. . .”
His version of what happened is a little different.
“As we got closer [to Bastogne], we ran into a machine gun the Germans had set up. They had us penned down. I’m behind a tree, and I’m looking towards it, and something in me said, ‘To hell with this place. I’m going home. One way or the other, I’m going home!’
“I left cover and started walked towards the machine gun. All the while, they’re shooting at me. I’m not running, I’m not trying to take cover, I’m just walking up to the Germans as if I were walking out to get the mail. I’m hearing the bullets pass me. Some are hitting the ground near me, and mud and snow is spattering up against me.
“My people are yelling at me to get down, but I didn’t listen. I was hearing my mother singing to me, and I wanted to at least say good by to her.
“A minute later, I’m standing at the rim of the foxhole the Germans had dug, and I’m looking down at them. They just stared at me with open mouth astonishment. I thought while I’m here, I may as well do something about this machine gun. I pointed my rifle at then, and they put up their hands in surrender.
“So that’s my story of why I got my medal. They gave it to me because I wanted to go home.”
He went on to say that the worse thing that happened to him was they shot off his boot laces.
When I pass away, his ribbons will go to his grandson, my boy.
I’ve heard occasional stories of things like this happening. Where some weird form of protection kept a soldier from harm. But still this is the most amazing thing I’ve heard. The story he told is either one hundred percent BS, or the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard.
Either way, I feel honored to have known him.