During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101rst Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101rst troops at Bastogne, in attendance. Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.
General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops:
Headquarters 101st Airborne Division
Office of the Division Commander
24 December 1944
What’s Merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting – it’s cold – we aren’t home. All true but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. We have identifications from four German Panzer Divisions, two German Infantry Divisions and one German Parachute Division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were headed straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Division’s glorious history but in World history. The Germans actually did surround us. their radios blared our doom. Their Commander demanded our surrender in the following impudent arrogance.
December 22nd 1944
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 Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hombres 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
The German Commander received the following reply:
22 December 1944
To the German Commander:
The American Commander
Allied Troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General Taylor, will say: Well Done!
We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.
A. C. McAuliffe
Today we have troops serving in harm’s way. From the bottom of a grateful heart I wish them and their families the Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest of New Years.
Update: Hattip to commenter T. Shaw for reminding me of this scene from the movie Battleground (1949), from which the initial clip at the beginning of this post is taken, where a Lutheran chaplain gives a sermon to troops of the 101rst.