• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

D-Day in the Haunted Wood

Dedicated to Pvt Eddie Slovik (1920-45) the only American soldier to be courtmartialled and executed in WW2.  Eddie ran scared from the Hurtgen forest battle.

D-Day – 6 June 1944, when Allied forces stormed into Hitler’s Fortress Europa in Normandy – is rightly celebrated for the valor of the American and British citizen soldiers who scaled the fearsome cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc and other dug-in Wehrmacht concrete bunkers on Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno beaches.

Most of us have seen Saving Private Ryan, or have movie memories of The Longest Day or TV’s Band of Brothers. That’s because D-Day is photogenic and “iconic”. The “longest day” is preserved in popular and institutional memory as a thrilling military success, which, as we know, has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. D-Day’s message is that US military strength and pluck overwhelm, and always will.

But what happens after Matt Damon’s Private Ryan is saved and John Wayne, with his broken ankle, takes Sainte-Mère-Église?

After the real Normandy invasion, American commanders, high on victories, were anxious to attack Hitler’s Siegfried Line, a series of defensive positions along the German border that were concrete bunkers protected by antitank obstacles and mines, and by motivated, battle-hardened Wehrmacht troops. The idiot’s plan was to frontally advance through a 70-mile-square dark Hürtgen forest, near Aachen, during the worst winter on record.

The forest trees had been planted so deliberately close together that visibility was almost zero – except for previously zeroed-in mortars and Maschinengewehr. The stupidest private soldier could have told the US brass that flanking the thickly wooded hills – going around it – would be more productive tactically and less destructive of the 24,000 Americans who died trying to take this piece of militarily valueless real estate.

I know about this disaster because I joined one of its lead elements, the Fourth Infantry Division, after they returned from Europe, decimated and shellshocked, and I had a chance to talk to survivors. At one point, the Fourth’s 22nd Regiment suffered 80% casualties; some of its companies took nearly 200% dead and wounded – that is every soldier had to be replaced twice over, usually by gormless trainees like me. Hardly a squad leader, sergeant or young lieutenant survived. (See the late Paul Fussell’s The Boys’ Crusade: American Infantry in Northwestern Europe.)

The three-month battle of the Hürtgen Forest, the longest battle in US military history – marked by mud, snow, misery, desertions, unheard-of GI casualties and top brass incompetence – is a historical stepchild swept aside for more glorious encounters like D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.

From September to November 1944, in the dark, mysterious, Grimm-like “haunted wood”, summer-uniformed, under-armed, ill-supplied GIs, mostly unsupported by artillery and weathered-in air, without maps and unable to see one another in the jungle-like, mine-planted forest, were shredded by murderous tree-bursts for which they’d not been trained and flung blindly into repeated attacks by uncoordinated “command and control” officers issuing dumb orders from the rear. Understandably, if they lived, they preferred not to talk about it to civilians. Official military histories, which infantryman-scholar Fussell called “a masterpiece of omission, evasion and cheerful euphemism”, simply erased Hürtgen altogether.

Top officers responsible for the fiasco – Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Courtney Hodges and Lawton Collins, among them – went on to honored retirement. Bradley, who became a “wise man” adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, strongly recommended against withdrawing from the Vietnam war. They never learn.

It depends on whether you’re looking at it from inside a shell-blasted foxhole, like the wounded veteran Fussell, or from an elegantly-drawn map in a warm chateau miles away from the freezing front, which you find reasons not to visit and see for yourself.

Ernest Hemingway, a civilian journalist and an invalided veteran from the Great War, wanted to see what the hell was going on. So he armed himself with a submachine gun (against the Geneva Convention) and invited himself to the Hürtgen battle with the Fourth Division’s 22nd Infantry Regiment. He took one look at this killing field, mud up to the axles, and GI foxholes useless under vertical shell explosions, and knew instantly what the generals refused to admit, that it was the first world war’s Passchendaele disaster all over again: brass sacrificing khaki for their greater glory.

An exception to the rule of generals covering their asses was James Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne, who always jumped into combat with his men and carried the enlisted man’s weapon, the M-1 Garand. He broke ranks to admit: “For us, the Hürtgen was one of the most costly, most unproductive, and most ill-advised battles that our army has ever fought.”

If only “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin, who understood the costs of combat, was still around to counsel Barack Obama about the lessons of Hürtgen and perhaps gently guide our commander-in-chief away from his current love affair with high-tech, kill-at-a-distance drone warfare – so bloodless, so intellectual, so glory-seeking … and so self-defeating. Obama, who, his aides tell us, has a “death list” printed on baseball cards listing which foreign enemies (and/or family) to obliterate with his thunderbolts, would have been at home at the battle of Hürtgen, behind the lines in some distant war room, poring over a map and brooding, brooding.

CLANCY SIGAL is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. He can be reached at clancy@jsasoc.com

More articles by:

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 22, 2019
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail