The many memorable December dates in American history include the Battle of the Bulge during December 1944. General Anthony McAuliffe is remembered for his courageous action on the 22nd of that month.
Commanding the U.S. Army’s beleaguered and surrounded 101st Airborne Division during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, McAuliffe received a German surrender ultimatum. “Nuts!” he replied, and became a lasting symbol of American courage and determination under fire….
In December 1944, during the siege of Bastogne, Belgium, McAuliffe was acting commander of the 101st in Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor’s absence. The Americans had been holding the Belgian town “at all costs,” and on Dec. 22, Gen. McAuliffe received the encouraging news that the 4th Armored Division was beginning its drive north to relieve the 101st. Later that morning, members of the division’s glider regiment saw four Germans coming up the road carrying a white flag.
General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz had this message for General McAuliffe:
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.
There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.
If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.
The German Commander.
When he received the message General McAuliffe’s immediate response was to crumple it up, throw it away, and say, “Aw, nuts!” —General McAuliffe didn’t use profanity. This was the official American response:
To the German Commander.
The American Commander
The German major who read it didn’t know what to make of this reply!
The threat of artillery fire did not materialize, although several infantry and tank assaults were directed at the positions of the 327th Glider Infantry. In addition, the German Luftwaffe entered the attacks on the town, bombing it nightly. The 101st was able to hold off the Germans until the 4th Armored Division arrived on December 26 to provide reinforcement.
For his actions at Bastogne, McAuliffe was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by General Patton on Dec. 30, 1944, followed later by the Distinguished Service Medal.
Read more about General McAuliffe at the Wikipedia and Military.com links above. More on the Battle of the Bulge here.