On this day 75 years ago one of the most famous lines ever uttered by an American military officer was said when the Germans surrounded the 101st Airborne around Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.

General Anthony McAuliffe, the acting Division Commander in the absence of General Maxwell Taylor who was in the United States at a conference at the time, was woken from his bed with the news that the German troops, who had encircled Bastogne, had demanded the 101’s surrender. 

McAuliffe uttered the answer “Nuts” and would immediately be remembered forever. 

In the Ardennes Forest, the Germans had taken the Americans completely by surprise and using their armored reserves attacked the most thinly defended line manned by the green U.S. 106th Division. They easily broke through and created a huge hole, a “bulge” in the allies’ lines. 

The 101st Airborne, still recovering from the beating it had taken in Operation Market-Garden, was refitting in France. It was rushed into the breach, short of men, equipment and with nearly a total absence of winter clothing. They were given the task of holding the important crossroads town of Bastogne where seven roads and the railway intersected. The 101st’s defense of the town steeled U.S. resolve during the battle. The unit would forever become famous for holding out against overwhelming odds. 

McAuliffe was born in Washington D.C. on July 2, 1898. He attended West Virginia University and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating just after World War I ended in 1918. He advanced slowly through the ranks in the small peacetime army. Just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. 

By the time of the D-Day invasion, McAuliffe had risen to Brigadier General and was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s artillery. He jumped into Normandy with the troops. After the death of the Assistant Division Commander, BG Donald Pratt in Normandy, McAuliffe was given that title. 

He took part in Operation Market-Garden and after the battle was the acting division commander while General Taylor was in Washington. When the 101st was alerted, he took the troops into Bastogne. The 101st ABN was joined by Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division.