Category Archives: film

Truth and the Twilight Zone in the Age Of Trump: “Logic is an Enemy, and the Truth is a Menace”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Judy and I have been binge watching the classic television series The Twilight Zone. The show, written by Rod Sterling first aired before either of us was born. If you have never watched it, suppose you were born too late, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to take some time to do.

But I should preface this with the words of the great historian, Barbara Tuchman:

Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

There are a lot of truths buried in the various episodes, truths about reality and fantasy; religion and ethics; science and technology; human nature and yes, government too. The Twilight Zone is a strange place, you never know when you might end up there, in fact in Trump’s America every day feels like an experience in the Twilight Zone, in this case Season Two, episode 29, The Obsolete Man. In the episode the state determines who is obsolete and therefore condemned to death.

In the episode, Burgess Meredith plays a character named Romney Wordsworth, a librarian who has been declared obsolete by the state. Books have been banned as well as belief in a God that is not the no-God of the state. He is brought before the Chancellor, played by Fritz Weaver, and condemned to a death of his choosing.

The opening narration, spoken by Sterling sets the stage for the story:

You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He’s a citizen of the State but will soon have to be eliminated, because he’s built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in The Twilight Zone

I won’t play the spoiler but I will end this brief article with the warning spoken by Sterling at the end of the episode. The episode can be found on Netflix. But, actually, this is unedited ending of that episode.

The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, entity, or ideology becomes obsolete when it stockpiles the wrong weapons: when it captures territories, but not minds; when it enslaves millions, but convinces nobody. When it is naked, yet puts on armor and calls it faith, while in the Eyes of God it has no faith at all. Any state, any entity, any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man…that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for “Mankind” – in The Twilight Zone.

So consider this a warning, especially for the followers of the authoritarians, fascists, and real or would be dictators, including the American President and his cult like supporters; a warning from the Twilight Zone.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Trump’s National Emergency and Blazing Saddles

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Today President Trump declared a National Emergency, though in his own words “he didn’t need to do it, he just wanted to do it faster.”

A couple of days ago I wrote about the great and trailblazing Mel Brooks film, Blazing Saddles. 

It was a film way ahead of its time and two of its characters, Attorney General Headly Lamarr, played by Harvey Kormann, and Governor William  Lepetomaine, played by Brooks himself are a startling premonition of the current President, in their lust for power and incompetence, wrapped in ignorance and racism.

Of course the President’s decision impacts military readiness, infrastructure, and the service men and women who work and live on the bases that will now be deprived of billions of dollars of badly needed infrastructure repairs and improvements just to remain operational. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the President, nor does the Constitutional separation of powers that gives to Congress, and Congress alone the power of the purse. But I digress…

The fact is that the President is doing his damnedest to undermine the rule of law by finding some kind of precedent for something that amounts to an unprecedented federal land grab on the basis of an unprovable national emergency.

Now all the President needs is men to carry it out. Of course, there will be no want of volunteers.

So anyway, as this cracked up Operation gets underway, just remember, Trump won’t be the first nor the last to try find a way around the law and the Constitution to fulfill his agenda, but none will be as funny and to the point as Headly Lamarr and William Lepetomaine. Compared to them, Trump is a pathetically clueless, humorless, and soulless rank amature who believes that he is both witty and smart.

All that being said I cannot beleive that he won’t get away with it. The GOP Senate majority has shown no courage when Trump walks on their Party beliefs and Constitutional responsibilities, and the Courts at this point, God only knows. I hope to be wrong but I don’t expect them to exercise any judicial independence in support of the Constitution and the powers granted to them within it.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Blazing Saddles at 45: It Couldn’t be Made Today, but it Needs to be Seen by Everyone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last Thursday, the 7th of February, was the 45th anniversary of an iconic film that even today challenges Americans about the evils of racism and prejudice. Since I was pretty much out of it following my surgery I didn’t write about Blazing Saddles was shocking in its humor which exposed the racism, sexism, and even the anti-gay prejudices that were common in the era. The use of racial invective and slurs by various characters is so shocking now that people who didn’t live during those times cannot understand the real intent of the film.

Mel Brooks used the parody of the classic America  Western Film to confront very real prejudices that ran rampant at the time, and still do, though most people are a bit more careful to disguise their public language and camouflage their prejudices without ever really given them up. In fact the language and terms used by Brooks and his co-writer, the late Richard Pryor are off limits in much of film. I remember showing the DVD to our younger enslisted personnel in Iraq and they were shocked. I had to explain how prevalent open racism was back when the film was released, and what Brooks’s intentions were. He used the humor of the film to bring to the surface the prejudices of many people, including many who later became his fans.

What is really hard for me to believe is that this masterpiece is unknown to many people. The fact that I lied about my age to get a ticket to see the movie when it came out, it was rated R and I had not yet turned 14, and that it remains one of my favorite films of all time, and not just mine, the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and is ranked number 6 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list.

The fact is that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today because of hyper-politcially correct era. Anyone who knows me knows that I am exceptionally wary of ever using racial stereotypes or slurs and have enough empathy and concern for the sensibilities of people who have suffered through racial, ethnic, or religious persecution and prejudice not to want to see them used for cheap laughs. That being said, in certain times where racial prejudice is being driven from the top down, where the President of the United States can get elected by eliciting racism, sometimes it is appropriate to stick a finger in their eye through the use of comedy. Brook’s used that to drive home to people who otherwise wouldn’t recognize just how deeply racism and racist tropes are past f our society even today.

I think for me one of the most poingent moments in Blazing Saddles is in a scene where Chinese, African American, and Irish Railroad workers come to help the Balck Sheriff Bart, played by Cleavon Little and the self-described White God Fearing Citizens Of Rock Ridge save the town. All that was asked was that they would be able to live there. The late great actor David Huddleston, who played one of the town council members said:

“All right… we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don’t want the Irish!” 

When they all threaten to leave he changes his toon and says:

“Aw, prairie shit… Everybody!” 

The thing is that in those days the Irish were still a despised minority, even though they were white. I am about half Irish by my DNA, and I remember how upset my mom got when she heard that line. It offended her, but I think that such comedic barbs are helpful to all of us if they make us more sensitive to others and aware of our own racial, ethnic, religious, or social prejudices.

Besides the camp fire fart scene my friends, that is the continuing value of Blazing Saddles.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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Babylon Berlin: An Amazing Series, Excellent History, and Lessons for Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have just finished watching the German historical crime series Babylon Berlin for the second time. I watch it on Netflix and it is worth watching.

Set in 1929 Berlin it is a story that involves a criminal inspector from Cologne going to Berlin to solve a case. In it he works with the Vice and Homicide squads in Berlin. The series accurately depicts the social, economic, and political situation that existed in the latter part of the Weimar Republic.

Since very few people understand much about the complexity of life in Weimar Germany, this is not a bad place to start. From it they can go into the social and political complexities covered books such as Weimar Culture by Peter Gay, The Reichswehr and the Politics by F. L. Carsten, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic by Andreas Dortpalen, and The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard Evans.

The series is dubbed into English from the German and also subtitled in English. The settings and equipment including trains, cars, weapons, aircraft and trucks are exceptionally matched to the period. Likewise, the director and producers show a social and political setting that is unmatched in accuracy for any television production that I have seen.

The protagonist in the series is Cologne detective Gereon Rath played by Volker Bruch. His mission is to find incriminating evidence of sexual depravity against his father, but ends up in a Byzantine world of libertine excess, Right and Left Wing extremism, and Soviet interference to destroy the Republic in order to set up a Soviet State. Of course parts the right Wing wanted to restore the monarchy, while Hitler and his Nazis wanted a Fascist State. The Monarchist and conservative Army was willing to work with the Soviet Union to obtain the weapons that it was forbidden by the Treat Of Versailles. The perverse and often incestuous world of those trying to overthrow the Republic from the Left and Right are met with the opposition of a few police officials and civil servants who are simply trying to do their job and uphold the law, while being attacked and vilified by Right and Left Wing extremists, all who will resort to violence to achieve their goals.

The female lead Charlotte Ritter, a poor woman who finds temporary work with the Berlin Police while working as an escort, entertainer, and prostitute at one of Berlin’s premier nightclubs is played by Liv Lisa Fries. Her story is one of the many threads that make this series such a powerful drama.

Rath’s partner, Bruno Wolter, a former army comrade is played to a tee by Peter Kurth. I think that one of the most fascinating characters is played by Mattias Brandt, who plays the head of the Criminal Police, August Brenda.

The webs of intrigue and betrayal in this show kept me on the edge of my seat both times that I watched it, and I am a student of the period.

However, the lessons to be learned are still pertinent. While the Weimar Republic was still in its infancy and the American Republic is now over 240 years old, they are torn by similar passions and attacked by similar parties, foreign and domestic, including Russia. In the middle there are imperfect men and women who serve cognizant of their oath to the Constitution and be the target of all, even when it would be easier to side with any particular party.

Mark Twain quipped: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Babylon Berlin shows that, and the shades of gray that it portrays can shed lite on our current world.

I really do recommend this series, and I won’t give away spoilers. It is worth watching.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Look Who’s Back (Er ist Wieder Da) A Comedy With a Far too Serious Message

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just watched the German satirical comedy Er ist Wieder Da or as it is called in its English title Look Who’s Back, on Netflix.

The film is about Hitler who wakes up in a garden near the former Reichs Chancellory In 2014 with no knowledge of anything that happened in the intervening 50 years. He is befriended by a man that runs a newspaper kiosk, as well as a down on his luck television producer. Neither man believes that he is Hitler, but in the world of YouTube, Facebook, and Google, the Führer becomes a reality television celebrity.

I am not going to give away the story or or any spoilers. At times it is hysterically funny as it goes between scripted scenes to unscripted scenes done on the streets of Berlin and other German cities with people who are not actors. I guess that for me, the unscripted scenes were the most frightening, because regardless of whether the people were members of the AfD, the NPD, the CDU, the Greens, the SPD, or Die Linke, many were attracted to the the populist, anti-immigrant, and anti-democratic film version of spouted. It was like watching the Borat of the Third Reich.

However, there is one exchange of dialogue toward the end of the film that is far too troubling not to cite here, simply because it is not only appropriate to Hitler and Germany, but to France and Le Pen, Hungary and Orban, Turkey and Erdogan, the Philippines and Duterte; and if we don’t think we are so different that 1933 Germany, the United States and Donald Trump.

The television producer who helped bring Hitler back to fame says:

“Yes history repeats itself. You are fooling people with your propaganda.”

Hitler replied:

“Oh Sawatski. In 1933, people were not fooled by propaganda. They elected a leader who openly disclosed his plans with great clarity. The Germans elected me.”

The film is frightening, it might even be more so if I was German, but it is frightening enough in the United States.

That exchange between Hitler and Sawatski demonstrates exactly what President Trump and his base believe, otherwise he would never have remained in office despite everything. The fact is, that like Hitler, there are many people who love him and would do all they could to see his racist, authoritarian, and unconstitutional dreams come into being. In 2015 candidate Trump made the comment:

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

Like those that followed Hitler into the Bunker and flames of Berlin, Trump’s most loyal followers will do that today.

I have never laughed so hard at a movie that terrified me more than this. I have to say, that my friends is exceptional satire.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Vice into Virtue, Slander into Truth… Sadism into Justice” The Miraculous Rationalizations Of Trump’s Christian Cult

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The government is partially shut down, nearly an million government employees and contractors have either been furloughed or working without pay for almost three weeks. A large number of those are employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Transportation Department, and the Department Of the Interior. A huge number of them are law enforcement: FBI, Border Control Agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents, TSA, Federal Prison Guards, a host of other Federal Law Enforcement Officers, Court employees, and too many others to list. All have vital functions to making sure the country is safe and that the government is able to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens and the nation, and this partial shutdown for the sake of a wall of folly endangers national security.

Sadly, neither the President nor his most faithful supporters, mostly Evangelical Christians and those in media who have long supported theocratic, authoritarian, fascist, and racist policies. Of the Christians most claim to be pro-life, which more accurately stated is anti-abortion, as most do not seem to care about any life once it has left the womb, especially if that life is darker skinned, or the progeny of poor people, or non-White Christians.

This, when I see and hear the political-religious leaders of the Christian Right like Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and a host of other Evangelical and Conservative Christian leaders defend the indefensible actions of President Trump I am reminded of the words of Joseph Heller in his classic novel Catch 22, who wrote about the Chaplain:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

As much as I doubt at times, I still remain a Christian. However, if I wasn’t already a Christian I couldn’t think of a single reason to follow the false God of men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, or any of the host of big name Evangelical Christian preachers who excuse the behaviors of President Trump and his decadently despicable defenders, including people that I once thought that I knew and considered to be friends.

I used to think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. In fact today when I see the words and actions of these supposed Conservative Christians.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

Likewise I struggle with faith every day. If you have read this blog from the beginning you will see chronicle my struggles with faith and its practice, especially in life and politics.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

When the true believers look at people like me, or Yossarian, I am sure they believe what Heller wrote:

“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” 

I will be a Yossarian any day of the week rather than the Chaplain in Catch 22, who like Falwell, Jeffress, Graham, and so many other have “turned vice into virtue, slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

As the President considers declaring a national emergency to build his wall, it would be good for all,of us to remember that tyranny does not arise in a vacuum. It requires accomplices who are willing to embody the Chaplain of Catch 22.

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Christmas NUTS! Anthony McAuliffe and the 101st Airborne at Bastogne

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Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On December 16th 1944 the German Army launched an assault in the Ardennes Forrest completely surprising the thinly spread American VIII Corps.  The German 6th Panzer Army, 5th Panzer Army and 7th Army attacked and forced the surrender of 2 regiments of 106th Infantry Division, mauled the 28th Division in the center of the American line while battering other U.S. forces.  To the north the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions were tenaciously defending Elsenborn Ridge while to the south the thinly spread 4th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions resisted the 7th Army advance. As elements of the two German Panzer armies advanced west Eisenhower dispatched his only reserves the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to meet the threat. The 82nd moved to the town of St Vith to aid the 7th Armored Division while the 101st was dispatched to hold the key road center of Bastogne.

By the 22nd of December the besieged American defenders of Bastogne were causing Hasso Von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army headaches. Manteuffel’s leading Panzer units of the 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr had been thwarted from taking Bastogne by a Combat Command of 10th Armored Division and lead elements of the 101st Airborne Division. After failing to take the town the Germans invested it with the 26thVolksgrenadier Division, and a regiment of Panzer Lehr while the  2ndPanzer and the bulk of Panzer Lehr continued their westward advance.

Cut off from any other American forces the 101st and a collection of stray units including CCB 10th Armored Division and remnants of CCR 9th Armored Division, three 155mm artillery battalions including the African American 969th Field Artillery Battalion held out. By the 21st of December they were completely surrounded by strong German Forces with no relief in sight.

The Commander of the American garrison was Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe. McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 101st and normally was the commander of the Division Artillery. Major General Matthew Ridgeway and many key commanders and staff were away from the division when it was hastily deployed to the Bulge to combat the German offensive.  McAuliffe now commanded a division which was surrounded, and that was short of ammunition, food, and cold weather gear.

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General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz

The German forces surrounding the city were commanded by the veteran General Der Panzertrüppen Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, commander of XLVII Panzer Corps.  Lüttwitz believed that resistance to his forces was futile sent the following message under a flag of truce to 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

McAuliffe’s response has become one of the immortal responses to a surrender demand in military history. According to staff members present when he received Lüttwitz’s note he simple said “nuts.” One of his staff officers suggested that he use “nuts” as his official reply to Lüttwitz and the following reply was typed:

To the German Commander

NUTS!

The American Commander

The reply was delivered by the commander of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Harper and his S-3 Major Alvin Jones. When Harper delivered the message he told the German delegation that in “plain English” it meant “Go to hell.” The scene has been immortalized on film in the movie The Battle of the Bulge

Likewise it is also depicted in the mini-series Band of Brothers. 

And in the 1949 film Battleground 

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The garrison held out until it was relieved on December 26th by the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army.  Despite that the situation remained tenuous and the town was the scene of much hard fighting over the next two weeks.

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McAuliffe’s Christmas Message to his Soldiers

McAuliffe went on to command the 103rd Infantry Division by the end of the war.  He returned to Europe as Commander of 7th Army in 1953 and U.S. Army Europe in 1955. He retired in 1956 with the rank of General.  He died in 1975 at the age of 77. His adversary Von Lüttwitz died at the age of 72 in 1969.

As we remain engaged in the current war it is always worth our time to remember the heroism, courage and faith of those that served before us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Post Script: To read more about the Battle of the Bulge on this site go to Wacht am Rhein: The Battle of the Bulge

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