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Foxhole Reunion
Battle of the Bulge, World War 11
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In the top picture, you are seeing Ivy Stafford (age 80) and Miles Stephens (age 78) greeting one another after 54 years.  The last time they had seen one another was in a foxhole 500 yards from the enemy lines in Hurtgen Forest two weeks prior to the bloodiest land battle in World War II ... the Battle of the Bulge.  Ivy Stafford (my Father) is on the right in the second picture and Miles Stephens is on the left.  I didn't think we'd ever get them to sit down as both were extremely excited to see one another.  The following is their story as told by reporter, Melody Overton, of the Victoria Advocate newspaper.

Both men went to war in 1944 and found themselves stationed in the heavily wooded plateau of Ardennes 12 miles from Luxembourg in the distance.  Hitler had planned to launch an offensive between Nov. 20-30.  He was confident the Allies wouldn't be able to react in time to stop the offensive.

Around December 1 at night, a 28-year old Stafford took his turn guarding the foxhole.

"I was sitting on my ankle at the mouth of the hole and things were quite," he said. "All of a sudden, an artillery shell hit a tree overhead.  It split my helmet, went through my jacket, busting the zipper out, went in my left thigh and through the other side, finally hitting my M-1 carbine, tearing it up."

While Stafford applied a tourniquet and sulphadiazine powder to his wound to stop the bleeding, Stephens, 26, suffered a shrapnel wound to his back.

Stafford waited for 24 hours in the foxhole unable to fight and lost a large amount of blood.  Found by another GI, he was taken by jeep to a Belgium hospital, where he was operated on, then onto Oxford, England to recover.

"You could've fit a Coca-Cola bottle through the hole in my leg.  The surgeons had stuffed a rag through the hole to where you could see both ends sticking out of my leg.  I don't know why they did that before they sewed me up," Stafford said.

While Stafford was taken away, Stephens remained, ready for combat despite his wound.

During a big push toward the enemy lines, Stephens was hit by a sniper's bullet in the chest area.   Luckily, the bullet hit a can of potted meat in his right pocket, ricocheted, and went into his right biceps.

"I came up with a handful of blood.  I didn't realize what had happened.  I knew I was alive and I decided to move on," Stephens said. He said his first wound hurt more than the second. "The shrapnel was worse than the shot.  That shrapnel burns and lights you up," he said.

He too was sent to England to recover.  Both men received their medical discharges in 1945.

While Stafford and Stephens recuperated, 30 German divisions roared across an 85-mile Allied front from southern Belgium to the middle of Luxembourg on December 16, 1944.  By Christmas, the German offensive had opened a bulge 50 miles into the Allied lines, forcing the biggest mass surrender of American soldiers since Bataan (note of interest: my father-in-law is a survivor of the Bataan Death March), some 4000 men in a single day.

American troops never gave up. On January 8, Hitler ordered his troops to withdraw from the tip of the Bulge. By Jan. 16, the Third and First Army had joined at Houffalize.  The Allies now controlled the original front. On Jan. 23, Saint Vith was retaken. Finally, on Jan. 28, the battle was over.

"Hitler got mad that day," Stafford said. "He (Hitler) was a nut if there ever was one," Stephens quickly replied.

Stafford said he wished they would've gone across the Rhine away from the wooded area because every time a shell fired, it splintered the trees into the foxholes. "That forest looked like a bunch of toothpicks," he said.

The two men said they didn't have time to talk much after digging foxholes, cutting trees to cover them and trying to stay warm. They mentioned getting out alive to each other but most of the time they prayed.

"One soldier said to me, 'I don't know how to pray' and I said, 'You better learn'," Stephens said. "I told myself I was coming back. I didn't let myself think of dying."

Stephens said he didn't let the mayhem that occurred cloud his judgment. "You couldn't stop and feel for the others dying around you.  You had to think about yourself to survive."

He always knew the Germans would lose. "I didn't have any use for them Germans. They interrupted my life keeping me way from wife and kids. I wanted to get it over with."

The soldiers stole rations and money from the deceased German troops but they never took rings off the frozen, dead fingers of a soldier or pictures of Hitler in case of booby traps. They didn't trust the Hitler youth, either.

Even though they received free cigarettes and tea, they couldn't light a smoke or a fire to boil water without being shot at. Hot meals consisted of orange marmalade, peanut butter and black coffee. The cold and snow was the worst of all.

"In the combat field, we just had blankets to keep warm in the holes. My feet were almost frozen when I was shot," Stafford said. "If I wouldn't have gone to a hospital when I did, I would've lost my feet."

In the years following the war, Stafford became a farmer in Elsa, Texas before moving to Victoria, Texas. He said on certain cold days, he would be flooded with memories. Stephens retired to Lutcher, Louisiana after owning a paint business in California. Both men had one child going into the war and after the war, each had a daughter they both named, ironically, Linda.

Both of the men's wounds left scars. Stafford's knee gives him trouble once in awhile and Stephens suffers from back pain and nerve damage in his left arm.

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Miles Stephens gently touches the hand
of his long, lost friend from WWII,
Ivy Stafford. The two men looked over old
photos and caught up on the 54 years they were apart.

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(For Reunion Photo Album)