Exactly seventy years ago today, in the small but strategic Belgian town of Bastogne, the 101st Airborne Division and elements of the 10th Armored Division of the United States Army were completely surrounded. Lacking proper winter uniforms and equipment, the American troops slept in foxholes during the bitingly coldest European winter of perhaps the entire century. They bravely bore incessant artillery shelling, constant snowfall which prevented supply drops of food and ammunition, and uncertain hope of reinforcement, without any auspicious military or meteorological signs.
And so it was that on December 22nd, 1944, the German commanding general wrote to General McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne, urging him to surrender within two hours or face annihilation by artillery barrage. Famously, General McAuliffe initially responded “NUTS!” – and his emphatic rejection of the German general’s surrender offer concluded with this sentence: “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.”
General McAuliffe and the troops’ courage and determination paid off. One day later, the immoderate weather cleared to permit the drop of food, medicine, ammunition, and even volunteer surgeons on a glider. Four days later, General Patton’s army broke through to Bastogne, and the German offensive would be doomed to fail, leading Prime Minister Churchill to declare: “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”
Throughout that December, the American troops and their families at home took nostalgic comfort from a song recorded by Bing Crosby and released by the War Department. Although Crosby began the song by crooning “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me,” he ended wistfully: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Capturing the emotional ethos of millions of families separated by distance and history’s costliest war, this song entered the American pantheons of both wartime music and Christmas music.
As we reflect back on that harshest of winters in 1944, after which freedom from Nazism’s scourge became certain, we acknowledge with great thankfulness how vastly different our lives are seventy years later, thanks in no small measure to the brave troops of the Battle of the Bulge. We’re working in heated offices and sleeping in heated homes. We can purchase ample food and medicine in nearby stores. Artillery shells aren’t exploding all around us. And we still get to enjoy Bing Crosby’s crooning while spending this holiday season with loved ones, not merely in wistful dreams.
Of course, around here we can’t resist changing the words slightly to say: “I’ll be hedged for Christmas, not only in my dreams.” It may just have a nicer ring to it. But either way, we are deeply grateful for you our friends and clients, wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous New Year, hoping you’ll be hedged for both.