Sam’s War – Bastogne 1944
Sam could not understand what happened, he was laying on rocky ground. He was drifting in and out of consciousness, his mind tripping back and forth from the war to his high school football game when his leg was broken.
He was the star quarterback, the game was a tough one and his team was ahead by just 3 points in the last quarter. Tempers were out of control on both sides. Sam yelled, “This is Sam’s war! Give it to me!” The center tossed the football to him and he could see his receiver was down, so he hugged the ball and took off running. Suddenly he found himself on the ground, tangled up with four tackles from the other team. He was laying on rocky terrain, what happened to the green turf? One tackle put his knee on Sam’s left leg and put all his weight on it, breaking Sam’s shin bone. Another tackle fell hard on the broken leg and fired bullets into it. Sam shot back and killed the tackle then passed out from pain. The paramedics put him on a stretcher, but instead of taking him to the ambulance they took him to the aid station. He could hear the Howitzers and gunfire – no, it was the crowd in the stadium booing and screaming at the tackles. His coach was shouting orders to the troops in the battlefield. The football team had army uniforms on and carried guns. His receiver was blown to pieces and lay scattered on bloody rocks.
“This one’s bad, needs immediate surgery,” someone said. Sam spiraled down into a black void, yelling “Sam’s war!”
On 24 December 1944 Sam awoke to sounds of moaning, nurses rushing around, continuous gunfire in the distance, then the aid station was hit by a German bomb, killing over 30 wounded men and one nurse. Sam’s bed was toppled over and he lay on the floor, his catheter bag leaking. With his left leg and hip in a cast he couldn’t move and lay there as his blanket and gown soaked up his own urine. “Sam’s war!” echoed in his head till he passed out.
Order was finally restored when the wounded were moved further back from the battle and a new aid station was set up. The surviving volunteer Belgium nurse continued to assist the American forces, administering to the wounded, until the siege of Bastogne was lifted two days later.
Sam lay in bed watching the group of officers visiting the wounded. He was in awe of those revered men. When they approached his bed, Sam lifted his right arm and saluted them. “At ease, soldier. What’s your name, son?”
Sam could barely speak he felt so honored as General George Patton and Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe stood by his bed. Sam gave his name and rank. The generals shook his hand and asked what his injuries were. They visited with Sam for about twenty minutes. Both generals signed and dated a card with a purple ribbon attached, that read, “To Lt. Samuel F. Wilson of the 101st Airborne Division with gratitude for serving with honor and bravery in battle.” An army photographer with the group took a photo of Sam with a General on each side of his bed.
Sam was eventually transferred to a military hospital in America where he received care and therapy. It took many months, but Sam was finally able to walk on his own again. He considered himself one of the fortunate ones from the Siege of Bastogne. The 101st Airborne Division’s casualties from 19 December 1944 to 6 January 1945 were 341 killed, 1,691 wounded, and 516 missing.
Sam’s War continued for a long time as he fought depression and the bad memories and nightmares that made him go through it all again, ending up in a corner with his back to the wall (which we now know as PTSD) and the feeling of helplessness. Sam healed physically to almost what normal used to be for him, but the scars remained and he suffered PTSD attacks the rest of his life, though it did lessen over time. He dedicated himself to surviving and helping other soldiers through the long road of recovery.
When Sam was married and had his own home he dedicated one wall in his den to the memories at Bastogne. Photos of himself with buddies, the Generals, the post, the C-47s, medical staff, other wounded soldiers in therapy, the first day he was able to stand and walk on his own, it all covered the wall.
The opposite wall contained his wedding photo. He married Lydia, an army nurse who helped bring him through therapy. Photos of smiling children and many grandchildren on that wall showed him just how blessed he was.
Many years after the Siege of Bastogne, Sam limped over to his three year old grandson and picked him up. “Grandpa, what does that say above the army pictures and ribbon?”
Sam said with pride, “That says ‘Sam’s War, My Last Battle.’ ”
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns