Bat­tle of the Bulge still haunts survivor 74 years later

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - metro - By Sig Chris­ten­son STAFF WRITER

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.”

Jerry Lara / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

Jerry Lara / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

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