Monday, January 9, 2017

The Fighting Band

Strategy Page continues its fine series of photos from the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 - January 1945).  The photo below is of members of the 28th Infantry Division Band and Quartermaster Company.  For their story, read on.

The German surprise attack on December 16 initially overwhelmed American forces in the Ardennes sector of Belgium and Luxembourg.  The 28th Infantry Division was one of the outfits in the direct path of the advancing Fifth German Panzer Army.  During those desperate days, the 28th did everything it could to slow the advance of German tanks on the vital crossroads at Bastogne.

The climax occurred on December 18-19 around the small town of Wiltz, which also served as Division headquarters.  Outnumbered and undergunned, everyone pitched in for the defense.  The band members dropped their instruments, picked up carbines and went into the front lines.  Though the defenders were finally forced to retreat the official military history concludes:
The fall of Wiltz ended the 28th Division's delaying action before Bastogne. Other American troops now had to take over the actual defense of that all-important road center, but without the gallant bargain struck by the 110th Infantry and its allied units-men for time-the German plans for a coup-de-main at Bastogne would have turned to accomplished fact. The cost had been high, much higher than American units expected to pay at this stage of the war: the 110th Infantry virtually destroyed, the men and fighting vehicles of five tank companies lost, the equivalent of three combat engineer companies dead or missing, and tank destroyer, artillery, and miscellaneous units engulfed in this battle.
Of the 60 band members, 47 were killed or captured.  Of 13 survivors, 11 were wounded.  For its gallant efforts, the band was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

In 1994, the 28th Infantry Division Band was invited to play at ceremonies honoring the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Luxembourg and Belgium.  Among the locations they played was at the graveside of one of the musicians killed during the action at Wiltz. 

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