Honoring the Memories and Sacrifices

St. Louis Gateway Chapter  •  Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge WWII  •  Saint Louis, Missouri

Article Reprint - St. Louis Shopper Jan 2014

“MY FAVORITE CUSTOMER WILL LIVE FOREVER”
by Forrest Miller
Royal Orleans

The most severe battle of WWII was the Battle of the Bulge which began on December 16, 1944. I was one year old getting ready for my first Christmas. Little did I know then, that 50 years later, I would be serving some of these soldiers at the Royale Orleans.

In 1993 the President of the Gateway Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, Bill Stiegeimeier became my customer, and they have been returning every year since  [Editor’s Note: Billy was the long-time Secretary]. I must admit, I did not know much about the battle. I was expecting just another military organization. Well, it did not take me long to conclude this was not the case with these veterans.

December 16th was sacred and they were never going to forget that day. They have their Memorial Service at 10:00 a.m. and follow with a dinner, where they visit. The Memorial Service was always held outdoors, by their Monument at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, until the last couple of years. They refused to come inside because of cold or bad weather. For those 500,000 U.S. Soldiers, the weather that day in Germany was the whole story of why these men are so special.

The temperature was in the teens, there was 24 inches of snow, and they slept in two man canvas tents. Most suffered from frostbite. There was fog so dense they couldn't even see the explosions from the grenades they threw. They were hunkered down in the Ardennes Mountains and they were so miserable that they prayed to be taken from this earth. I can only imagine...and I thought Fort Leonard Wood was bad. There were 89,000 casualties. They lost their buddies. How would you and I react to such horrific conditions? Well, as we know, they won the battle and the war. They won me too, and here is why: these veteran infantrymen unconditionally love their country more than any group I have ever served [at Royal Orleans]. This year I interviewed some of them.

I asked one 91 year old if he ever worries? He said,”Never, I am just happy to be here.” I asked another if he was concerned about the direction of our country. He said, “I was more concerned on December 16, 1944.” He convinced me that my concern was just part of life in a democracy. His faith in our country was unwavering. I asked another to explain life through his eyes and he answered, “I just take one day at a time.” The Chaplin gave a beautiful prayer. He has been married over 65 years and his beautiful wife was with him. His prayer was not politically correct; no dancing around the word of God.

These men and women are believers, and they are grateful. We are now down to about twenty of these brave veterans, all in their late 80's and early 90's. What will happen to their organization and Memorial Service ten years from now? The good news is that the organization is being transferred to the soldiers’ families and friends. The Memorial Service will always be with us [at Royal Orleans] and that is a wonderful thing. They are expecting a better crowd next year and they had over 150 this year.

This year something special happened. Dr. George Despotis, a professor at Washington University, and a physician at the veterans home, was told by some of the veterans that one of the ways they could keep warm [during the battle] was to drink apple brandy. So he brought a case and we toasted all 500,000 of them, including Ike and General Patton, on a job well done. I can tell you first hand that apple brandy will get the chills out. But my eyes will never stop welling up whenever I think of these Great Americans.

The good doctor has financed a book called Victory Through Valor. It is a collection of memoirs of over 100 soldiers who fought in the battle. We have some available for purchase. The proceeds of the book all go back to this organization of amazing Americans: The Gateway Chapter of The Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, St. Louis, Missouri.

--- Forrest