Battle of the Bulge still haunts survivor 74 years later
In the dream he has most often, Chuck Rowe Stout sees a fellow private first class, Doug Jones, cut down after he rises during a firefight in the Battle of the Bulge.
Jones, a good friend, has seconds left to live.
The dream lingers like an unhappy spirit, unable to move on, even 74 years later. Stout occasionally finds himself on a hill in the Ardennes Forest outside Moircy, in Belgium, with another friend, Pfc. Bill Cotter, trying to save Jones, whose helmet was in the crosshairs of a Nazi sniper scope.
“When you’re sleeping and you dream about it and say, ‘If I do this, that wouldn’t have happened,’ ” he said. “I don’t know whether other guys do it, but I keep trying to make them come out differently so one of my buddies didn’t get killed.”
As he marks the anniversary of the Bulge, Stout, 94, is far removed from one of the biggest battles of World War II and yet still can’t leave it behind.
He rose from enlistee to officer during the war, went to college afterward. He had three marriages and two kids. He’s not morose. He once was an investor in an oil field drilling operation and chuckles while showing off the only thing that came of the $50,000 he spent on a dry well — a paperweight with a teardropshaped splash of crude in it.
These days, he writes about the war and his comrades, Cotter and Jones in particular. They carried the Browning Automatic Rifle, a weapon much heavier but similar in some ways to today’s M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, used to lay down suppressive fire.
“All three buddies lay prone on a hill with their butts down,” he wrote in “Ode to a B.A.R. Trine,” one of 16 poems he has written about the war since
2000. “A sniper shot Doug Jones in the head with one round. He died before he hit the the ground. Doug was my buddy, the first to die. I couldn’t hold back my tears so I had to cry.”
A last-chance German offensive, the Battle of the Bulge ran from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945. It was marked by huge losses — 89,000 Americans killed, wounded and taken prisoner, with most accounts putting the German casualties higher, up to 100,000. Cotter and Jones were among the 19,000 U.S. soldiers killed.
As a final Allied victory seemed inevitable, 28 German divisions stunned the American and British generals by attacking along an 80-mile line from Monschau, Germany, to Echternach, Luxembourg. The Nazis massed heavy tanks, paratroopers, SS troops and an elite Führer Grenadier brigade against six U.S. divisions.
Germany’s 5th and 6th Panzer armies overran some Allied units and forced others into a hasty retreat, pushing the front lines into a huge U-shaped bend that threatened to break — the bulge. In bitter winter weather, the U.S. 101st Airborne found itself surrounded, holding the crossroads town of Bastogne. It was relieved on Christmas as Allied reinforcements began to regain the lost ground.
Adolph Hitler’s goal in launching the offensive was to force a negotiated peace. His generals were against it, but if all went as planned Nazi forces would reach Antwerp to cut off and annihilate the British 21st Army Group and the U.S. First and Ninth Armies north of the Ardennes.
Resistance, however, quickly firmed up. The First and Ninth Armies shifted against the northern flank of the German punch while the British sent reserves to secure a line to the Meuse River. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army rushed in from the south.
Stout and his fellow BAR men, Carter and Jones, were part of the 87th Infantry Division, which was attached to Third Army. They were only six miles from Bastogne when ordered to attack a regiment of the Panzer Lehr Division, an elite unit Hitler tasked to lead the Ardennes offensive.
Panzer Lehr had fought in Normandy after D-Day and lost twothirds of its troops to air attacks as the Allied breakout began three weeks after the June 6 land- ings. It had been sent to the Ardennes for rest and refitting.
The BAR weighed 21 pounds, but that was nothing compared to the ammunition. Stout, who weighed just 165 pounds, often carried up to 100 pounds of it. How he was able to do that is a story that goes back to 1941 and Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles where he earned letters on the gymnastics, track and football.
“Physically, I was in top shape,” he said.
But Stout will tell you he was also lucky, from a very young age.
As a child in Denver, he would have been hit by a car if not for the stranger who pulled him out of the way. Years later, Stout took a wrong turn in the wee hours of the morning and fell asleep, the car sliding off the road and heading down an embankment. He woke up and stopped the car just in time. While surfing off the Cali- fornia coast, he swam farther out to sea to evade a series of giant, powerful waves that could have killed him.
It wasn’t anything he knew to do, just pure instinct, but Stout’s best luck came in the war.
“It was terrible; it was a nightmare. This lieutenant sent us up there and he went with us and the sergeant ask me to get my BAR and go up on the road and fire down into town, and I pulled the bolt back and it wouldn’t slide forward fast enough,” he said. “It was frozen. So I went back down to the sergeant, he gave me his rifle and (I) took it up there … and fired eight rounds real fast — bang! bang! bang! bang! bang!
“And it was about five minutes from then that we heard this tank squeak. I never will forget that squeak, squeak, squeak. It needed oil, the tracks, with the snow … and it just squeaked like hell, and it stopped on the the road right above us.”
The Panther, a medium tank, fired one round, and then another — “Wham! Wham!” Stout recalled.
A private first class bulled his way into Stout’s slit trench, saying, “‘I want in that hole with you!’ And I said, ‘There isn’t any room, Bill.’ And he says, ‘I’m coming in anyway.’ So I says, ‘You can have it then,’ and I crawled out and he crawled into the hole.”
Stout took cover behind a tree. Suddenly, a shell exploded between them. The shrapnel blinded the soldier while leaving Stout with the proverbial million-dollar wound to his right leg and buttocks. He was shipped to a hospital in Britain, where he spent 2½ months, and then entered Officer Candidate School in France.
The blinded soldier was sent to Pasadena, Calif., near Stout’s parents. In time, they and Stout befriended the man, and later learned that he married his nurse. They had four children and ran a business in St. Paul, Minn. — but continued to suffer mental health issues, unable to fully escape the war.
Then there was his commanding officer, Capt. William Kromer, who was headed to relieve a cowardly lieutenant when he was killed. Stout, who modeled himself after the West Point-educated Kromer over 10 years in the Army, salutes him in a poem.
“In death did he renew
“The loyalty of his men
“They will forever sing his praise
“Courageous leader of Kromer’s kadets
“Captain Kromer Our Captain.”
“You don’t forget this stuff,” Stout said. “I still fight those battles a lot, trying to make them come out differently.”
Army veteran Lt. Charles “Chuck” Stout, 94, talks about his experience fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Since 2000, Stout writes poems about World War II and his fallen comrades.
A shadowbox contains bipod legs from a Browning Automatic Rifle belonging to Pfc. Doug Jones, who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 30, 1945. The box is at the house of former Lt. Charles “Chuck” Stout, 94, who was with Jones at the time of his death.