Remembering a Christmas spent in hell at the Battle of the Bulge
Veteran: Experience on battlefield taught him family matters most on Christmas
FITCHBURG, WIs. — Raymond Ray was born and raised in Wisconsin. When World War II broke out he was drafted into the U.S. Army and as a 19-year-old kid was sent to the front lines of what would become the largest and bloodiest battle of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge.
The offensive was launched by Nazi Germany in a desperate attempt to split the lines of U.S. and British troops in Belgium, France and Luxembourg on Dec. 16, 1944, and fighting would continue until Jan. 25, 1945.
Before it ended with the Allied Armies repelling the Nazis, more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers would be killed or wounded.
“I can still hear the voices of the young men, the beautiful young men that didn’t come back,” Ray said.
Ray was sent to the front line on Dec. 27 to replace soldiers killed or wounded during the initial attack by the Germans.
“The fellows, older fellows that had survived the Bulge push didn’t want to really get to know us because they figured we’d be dead in another day or two,” Ray said.
Surviving on the field of battle meant not only battling the German Army, they also had to battle the brutal cold winter.
“Living out in 35 below weather, you just couldn’t build a fire because there were too many of the enemy around, so we managed to try and survive,” Ray said.
The fighting and the cold took a heavy toll. When Ray was finally withdrawn from the front lines, he would spend months in an Army hospital recovering.
“When we were pulled off the front line we were so stiff, practically in the last stages of hypothermia that they had to carry us out. We were like boards,” Ray said.
He has carried the experiences of that field of battle with him for the last 70 years. The images and sounds haunt him.
“My mind is as sharp as it ever was,” the 89-year-old veteran said. “Very sharp and I still hear the moans and screams and all of that that went on.”
Ray returned home after the war and spent years trying to help others in the community. It is something he said he felt the need to do.
“Because you saw the loss of so many lives and you want to compensate,” Ray said.
He also has spent the years honoring the memory of the men he served with by capturing their images on canvas.
“To give the idea of not forgetting the people that didn’t come back,” Ray said.
This year, on the 70th anniversary of the battle that helped to end World War II, Ray said that experience changed what matters in his life. On Christmas the thing that matters most is family.
“Oh Lord yes. It is the most important thing. We always give the kids a hug when they come in and tell them we always love them,” Ray said.