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Local WWII veterans remember the Battle of the Bulge

Above, World War II veteran and Unicoi County resident M.L. Phillips sits with Mike McIntosh, the son of World War II veteran Burnice McIntosh. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Late December and early January tends to bring families together in a time to celebrate and reminisce about the past.

For a select brave few, late December and January tends to bring back very different memories.

Unicoi County resident Mike McIntosh recently reached out to The Erwin Record to honor a very special date – Dec. 16, 2019, which marked the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

On Dec. 16, 1944, Allied Forces stood their ground against the last major German offensive campaign along the Western Front. The area along the Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg hosted the Battle of the Bulge, which lasted until Jan. 25, 1945.

According to local resident and WWII Veteran M.L. Phillips, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, there wasn’t much option for survival during the battle.

“A lot of men froze to death. Some were starving and others were shot,” Phillips said. “Some of the men that froze to death got so cold they just got tired and fell asleep in a foxhole and never woke up. It was tough. We got so desperate for men to fight that we took cooks and put them in the infantry; it was an unusual situation.”

Phillips, who is 94, did not get to fight long before he was shot, but unlike so many, he survived his wounds.

“I joined the Army in 1944 as a Private First Class,” Phillips said. “When I went into the company I knew nobody. I was in the 34th Division, but all I had was basic training. I went straight into combat and got wounded the first day out.”

According to Phillips, he was wounded when he was struck by “88’s” and machine gunfire.

“We were in an open field, I didn’t really have a chance,” Phillips said. “I was shot up pretty good. I still have shrapnel near my heart. I thank the good Lord for saving my hide.”

Phillips, like so many of his generation, does not complain about the pain he endures.

“I’ve got steel plates in my back, and I have grizzel grown around the shrapnel near my heart. It doesn’t bother me; I occasionally get a little heat around my heart,” Phillips said. “I was willing to serve. If you swore an oath, that’s it – I was willing to serve to the best of my abilities.”

McIntosh, who owns Model A Mac’s, and his brother Steve McIntosh, remember their father, Burnice McIntosh, who was an Army WWII Veteran. Burnice McIntosh unfortunately passed away on Nov. 21, 2006, but his memory and stories of his service live on in his sons.

“Our father started out in the 106th Infantry, and he went on as a replacement during D-Day and was assigned to Patton’s 3rd Army, in the 10th Armored Division,” Steve McIntosh said. “He went through Normandy through France and through Belgium and he was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, and didn’t get out of hospital care until August of 1946. He almost lost his hands and feet due to frostbite and he had scars on his lungs.”

Mike McIntosh remembers his father talking about going into Omaha Beach.

“Dad went into Omaha Beach with the second wave and he said the ocean was red with blood,” Mike McIntosh said. “It was so brutal; the seafoam was red because of blood.”

For Mike McIntosh, his honeymoon allowed him to cross paths with the land that his father and so many other brave men fought on.

“I was lucky, I got to go to France and Omaha Beach for my honeymoon,” Mike McIntosh said. “I was able to walk the same path that he walked, so many years later. I was able to get vials of sand from Omaha Beach and have handed them out to family and friends.”

Burnice McIntosh received numerous badges and medallions for his service, including the Patch of 106th Infantry, U.S. Army Cap Emblem, 10th Armored Division, U.S. Army Lapel Pin, Marksman’s Badge with training in bayonet, grenade, Machine Gun and Combat Infantry Badge, lapel pin for the armored cavalry, Silver Eagle, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, PFC Chevrons, Good Conduct, European and African Campaign, WWII Victory Medal, D-Day Medal, Ruptured Duck, Battle of the Bulge and Victory in Europe Medals.

Harry Wilson, 96, of Unicoi County also fought alongside Phillips and McIntosh.

“I was drafted and sent to England, to the coast of France, then I went to Holland and Belgium,” Wilson said. “I started in the Army infantry and then the 101st Airborne. We would drag gliders with our planes into battle.”

For Wilson, who served more than three years, he saw a lot of crashed gliders but avoided getting injured during the war.

“I didn’t get hurt, I was lucky,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen a lot of those gliders go down.”

Wilson shared 72 years of marriage with Sylvia (Rice) Wilson, and had two children, Harry Wilson Jr. and Yvonne Cox. Wilson would go on to paint and passed the talent down to his son.

Victory in WWII brought a sense of joy and relief to those who fought.

“I was so happy it was over,” Phillips said.

For Wilson, the news of victory meant that he could return home.

“I was in France and when I found out we won, it felt pretty good I guess,” Wilson said. “I was ready to come home and get discharged.”

McIntosh asks that as you get back into your normal routine following the holidays remember to give thanks to those that have served and to appreciate the sacrifices given at the Battle of the Bulge.