“Several other soldiers and I were holed up in a house in Bastogne, Belgium, singing Christmas carols when we heard the drone of approaching planes. Grabbing our rifles a little tighter, for all the good that would do, we held our breath and waited,” said Schmitz, author of the memoir “A Tourist in Uniform: World War II Memories.”
The first plane dropped areas, lighting up the night skies. The soldiers scrambled to the cellar stairs, falling down the steps as bombs exploded and parts of the house collapsed above them. “On Christmas morning we discovered that the house had taken a direct hit from a 500-pound bomb that landed on the toilet, splitting it in two,” Schmitz said. “The bomb just about demolished the house, but it didn’t explode."
After surviving that Christmas Eve, Schmitz recalls making it to the mess hall for a much-needed Christmas Day meal and then being handed a copy of Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe’s holiday message to his troops. The conclusion read: “We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.”
Today, there are about 1.3 million active military personnel, and about 200,000 of those are deployed overseas. Each holiday season a number of organizations provide support to the troops and their families and also accept donations from Americans who want to help. A few of those include:* The USO, which delivers holiday care packages during various holidays throughout the year.* Operation Gratitude sends care packages to troops overseas, veterans, military families and others. Each package contains snacks, hygiene products, handmade items and letters of support.
Editor’s note: Schmitz is a retired teacher who earned a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in exceptional education for the
mentally challenged student. He is an avid stamp collector and fisherman who has fished in 191 bodies of water on three countries.