On January 25, 1945, the last of Hitler’s troops had been pushed from the small Belgian town of St. Vith, bringing closure to the Battle of the Bulge, the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the third-deadliest campaign in American history.
Thousands of U.S. troops fought at “the Bulge.” Their heroism stands as an exemplar of the fighting spirit, grit, and determination of the U.S. military.
We at SOFREP consider ourselves, first and foremost, students of history. We seek to remember both the battles and the servicemembers who fought them. From time to time, we are fortunate enough to be able to share personal stories of these histories: first-hand accounts from the field of battle.
Today, we are proud to share this letter, written by U.S. Army Staff Sergeant David Baldwin to his brother Frank during the height of the Battle of the Bulge. SSG Baldwin served in the 6th Armored Division. The Sixth was ordered north of the French city of Metz on December 23 to take and hold a sector along the southern bank of the Sauer River. It was heavily engaged in the battle for Bastogne and responsible for driving the Germans back across the Our River and into Germany.
Frank Baldwin was a Marine Corps pilot with the VMF-221 and was stationed in the Pacific. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the theater.
Frank and David were two of 10 Baldwin children from a large Catholic family in Michigan. Frank Baldwin was the eldest.
The letter was written from the 137th Field Hospital which had taken up a position just to the south of the front in support of the Bulge. SSG Baldwin’s words are a stark yet beautiful reminder of the Battle of the Bulge and the sacrifices made by so many.
We thank our friend Alexander Stein for sharing this letter with us. We hope that your grandfather’s words — and his service — may live on in the hearts and minds of our readers.
“Christmas Eve, 1944
137th Field Hospital
Sorry the censor won’t
let me say just where
but it’s a long long
way from home
My Dearest Frank:
The light of another day has faded out and the men have taken to their stations for the night watch. The usual wind seems to have forgotten us and the night promises to be a clear and cold one.
As I write this letter to you, I am sitting at a little folding table inside the door of our hospital tent. In the dismal blue light of the black-out lamps, the patients and their attendants are a ghostly picture as the attendants move cautiously, yet quickly, from cot to cot.
The sick and wounded are unusually quiet tonight. It is a stillness that is different from the tense and anxious hush of those nerve racking moments when an enemy patrol has broken through our front line or their aircraft are hovering overhead. Tonight, even here, it is Christmas Eve and the silence is filled with thoughts and longing for home, for family, and for the joy that Christmas brought. All the men seem lost among memories and dreams which distance, discomfort, and terror have made even more dear to us.
Through the flaps of the tent door I can see out beyond the dim hue of the black-out lamps. There in the snow a few yards in front of this tent stands a sentry with his back to us facing out into the night.
I do not know who he is for as he stands there his parted feet and legs are wrapped in leggings, and his straight body is covered by olive drab and his erect head is helmeted in steel. All my eyes can see of this man is his uniform and the only name I know is ‘sentry of the guard, post number four.’
There are millions of men who fill that description tonight and they are scattered over this troubled world from here to home and back again. To the eyes they look just like so many cogs of a great mechanical wheel and we speak of them in terms of hundreds and thousands. Yet standing there beneath that steel helmet is an individual. No, I don’t know who he is — whether he’s one of the boys who went to our school (of whom there are several here you know), or a lad from Maine; but wherever he calls home I am sure his thoughts are drifting back there tonight as he remembers how he used to spend Christmas Eve laughing and playing about a gaily lighted Christmas tree with his family and friends — greeting everyone he met with ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,’ giving gifts and singing carols.
As he stands there tonight shivering in this dark and lonely silence thousands of miles from family and fearfully close to the enemy, there seems to be no Christmas. He is wondering why men who want to be at home with loved ones must hide in holes of a foreign land and stand guard [lest] they be murdered in their sleep. Surely there must be some answer to this madness.
There is an answer and it is with us this Christmas Eve. Above the sentry you can see a star such as appeared above the lonely shepherds that first Christmas Eve. It is easy to see it out here where its light is not interfered with by all of our artificial glitter. We can see it clearly and remember the message given by its light. The message that there was a Savior born this night, who would bring peace to men and goodwill. That is what Christmas really is — the birthday of Christ. A humble man who taught a great truth, who told us how to find the peace we seek now.
Tomorrow when you are again celebrating Christmas at home — this time look deeper than the fancy wrappings of the gifts and see the love, unselfishness and kindness. Remember that this is the real spirit of Christmas. When Christmas is over do not cast these aside with the withered wreaths and wrinkled wrappings, take them with you through the years so that goodwill will not die with the setting of the Christmas sun but will grow each day from its birth until all men who can see this star will know its message and will become men of goodwill. Then and only then, will there be peace on Earth and whoever this boy is beneath that helmet can cast off his uniform and be himself again with you — his family and friends.
He is cold and lonely as he stands there, but as I close the flaps of the tent door, I know he will stand fast until the job is done, because he has faith in you who are behind him.
Remember he is out there waiting. Don’t fail him. Tomorrow is Christmas and the birthday of goodwill. If you let it die, we too will die, and our stand [will be] for naught. But if you make it live and grow, so will we live and our stand will not have been in vain for there will be peace on Earth and goodwill to men.
May God bless, guide, and keep you always but share you forever with those who love you.