Two World War II veterans who fought at the Battle of the Bulge got together Saturday in Chester County to share their memories from the war.
“He and I were working on the same gun for the very first shots of the Battle of the Bulge,” Eugene Morell, a 92-year old veteran said.
“That’s how we met,” his friend, 99-year-old B. Ira Needham added.
The World War II veterans are the last two surviving members of their gun crew from the battle.
While the men were briefly acquainted at Camp Atterbury in Indiana before they left the United States, they really got to know each other during the Battle of the Bulge when they worked with three other men to operate the 105 Howitzer, a pick-up truck length gun that the Army had to wheel onto the battlefields.
The men were on the front lines as the U.S. Army covered a 27 mile front during the battle which lasted from December 16, 1944, through January 25, 1945. Prior to the battle, the front had only 5-7 miles and it was manned by a more experienced regiment. Morell and Needham were part of a green outfit, a regiment that had never seen battle, when they arrived and they said they were in the field the whole time.
“The air was full of shrapnel, but we had to keep doing our job,” Morell said. “If you stood by your job, even when you were scared to death, you were a hero.”
“We lost 7,000 men in one day,” Needham said.
The men said a winter storm prevented the U.S. from getting air support and kept the battle raging on the ground.
“When the snow stopped, it snowed for a week and a half, you could see the planes flying into Berlin. You couldn’t see the planes, but you could see their vapor. That was a beautiful sight,” Needham said. “Within five days that was the end.”
For Needham, however, the battle was only the beginning. As the U.S. forces were retreating, he was separated from Morell and got lost with four others in the Adennes forest.
“There was snow up to our knees,” he said. “And one night the whole woods light up and we thought they had us.”
The group had actually came across a launch for a jet propelled missile known as a buzz bomb and they were able to get back to safety before the German troops knew they had been there.”
Needham and Morell remained in Europe until the end of the war. They don’t remember partaking in any celebrations, however, when the war ended.
“For me, it was just like another day,” Needham said. “We didn’t have big celebrations like you see in the movies. We needed to think about going home.”
It would take a little time before the men returned home. The U.S. Army used a point system, known as the Advanced Service Rating Score, to determine which men to send home first. Needham and Morell said that this system gave soldiers points based on factors such as how long they had been overseas and how many children they had to determine who would return home first. Being 18 and 24, Morell and Needham were held back until older men with children were sent home.
When they got back to the states, however, job prospects were poor and Morell was unemployed for a time.
“There were so many of us coming in and all the jobs were being taken by the married men,” he said. “You could see everyday soldiers and sailors walking the streets.”
Needham was luckier. He was able to return to his job at a Lukens Steel company when he got back.
Morell was eventually able to find a job working with Michael Stern Men’s Suits as part of an on the job training program he said was started by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“I had been a farmer all my life. I had no idea about making men’s clothing.” Morell said. “You would make one section of a suit. One guy would make pockets, another sleeves. We got paid per piece.”
Needham now lives in Honey Brook, Chester County, while Morell lives in Wolcott, New York. After the war, they kept in touch with the other members of their crew until the others all passed away. They now remain in contact with each other by writing letters.