Few American generals can boast a more eloquent quote than General Anthony McAuliffe said to the Germans who had surrounded his troops in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.  

McAuliffe was born in Washington, D.C. on, July 2, 1898. He attended West Virginia University and then transferred to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in an accelerated program, graduating just after World War I ended. He was commissioned as an Artillery Officer and spent the years between the wars in various peacetime assignments. Gaining ranks was slow then, in the downsized U.S. Army, and by 1935 he was just a captain. 

He was selected to attend the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Then, in June 1940, McAuliffe graduated from the United States Army War College. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1941 just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Early in the war McAuliffe was assigned to the Pentagon and was dealing with logistics. But he volunteered for airborne duty and joined the 101st Airborne Division. Airborne warfare was a new development and the United States initially fielded two divisions in Europe, the 101st and the 82nd Airborne Divisions. Both would play key roles in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).

At the time of the D-Day landings, McAuliffe was a Brigadier General and the commander of the Division’s artillery. During the invasion, however, the Assistant Division Commander, BG Donald Pratt died in Normandy. McAuliffe was elevated to his position. McAuliffe then jumped into Holland (his second combat jump) with the 101st as part of Operation Market Garden. Market Garden was a failure and the airborne forces all took a beating in the ill-fated operation that was supposed to “end the war by Christmas.” 

After the 101st was pulled off the line in Holland to refit, rest, and bring in replacements, McAuliffe became the acting division commander as MG Maxwell Taylor was in Britain. It was then that the Germans made the counterattack in the Ardennes, committing all of their armored reserves. The Germans’ initial gains were significant, creating a gigantic bulge in the Allied lines.

After the Germans shocked the Americans, by attacking and overrunning the thinly held part of the American line held by the green troops of the 106th Division, the veteran and battle-tested 101st Airborne Division was rushed to the front to hold the vital crossroads of Bastogne in Belgium. Soon after arriving, the 101st and a Combat Command of the 10th Armored Division were surrounded by vastly more numerous forces. The orders for McAuliffe and the paratroopers were that Bastogne must hold.

The Germans needed to capture the town. On December 22, 1944, around 11:30 in the morning, four German soldiers, waving two white flags, approached the American lines south of Bastogne. The senior officer was Major Wagner of the 47th Panzer Corps. The junior officer was Lt. Hellmuth Henke of the Panzer Lehr Division.