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
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.
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."
applied a tourniquet and sulphadiazine powder to his wound to stop the bleeding, Stephens,
26, suffered a shrapnel wound to his back.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
Miles Stephens gently touches
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.
(For Reunion Photo Album)