“Bastogne Presenting Lt. Clair Hess” is a short, black-and-white film about Bastogne, made by the Army-Navy Screen Magazine in early 1945. It is introduced by Lt. Clair Hess of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, Co F, 2nd Battalion, 101st Airborne. (On June 6, 1944, Lt. Hess jumped from a plane over Normandy, France. Within minutes, he was on the ground, wounded by machine-gun fire. His injured leg forced him to lie under his parachute for three days, during which a German soldier came so close Hess could feel the soldier’s breath.)
Hess is shown seated in a theater smoking a cigarette as he introduces the auction that took place in Belgium starting in December 1944. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe (acting division commander of the 101st Airborne Division) is shown at mark 01:11, as Hess explains the division was responsible for the defense of Bastogne leading up to the Battle of the Bulge. As Hess recounts the action, we see snow-covered scenes of the battle and the frozen bodies of soldiers killed in action. At mark 04:30, Hess tells of one of the most famous events in WW2 history.
On December 22, 1944, German emissaries asked for the American surrender, to which General McAuliffe answered tersely, “Nuts!” (Hess explains that it was “just GI American for ‘Go to hell!’”) A few days later the skies cleared, allowing Allied air forces to retaliate and to drop much-needed food, medicine, and weaponry to ground troops. On Christmas Eve, the Americans allowed the Germans to get as close as possible before opening fire. “You could hear them hollering, ‘Comrade!’ Begging for mercy. Asking for a break. Oh sure. We gave ‘em a break,” says Hess as the film shows the dead, frozen bodies of Nazi soldiers in the mud and muck. “The German supermen. They didn’t know what the hell had happened.”
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