Man fights in epic battle, war's turning point

DICKINSON, N.D. - At the tender age of 18, Paul Peters of Dickinson, was drafted into the U.S. Army and subsequently, fought in one of the largest land battles during World War II.

DICKINSON, N.D. - At the tender age of 18, Paul Peters of Dickinson, was drafted into the U.S. Army and subsequently, fought in one of the largest land battles during World War II.

Involving about 500,000 U.S. soldiers, Peters was a member of the 336th Field Artillery Battalion, 87th Infantry Division.

Dec. 16, 1944 marked the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge of World War II in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium and Luxembourg and lasted until Jan. 28, 1945.

Born in Cyrus, Minn., Peters said many of those drafted for World War II were very young and training was about six months before being sent to battle.

Nancy Monson, administrative director at the national headquarters for Veterans of Battle of the Bulge, said the battle "was the turning point of World War II."


Monson said Hitler wanted to get his troops to the port of Antwerp, a resting area, to get supplies and cut off supplies to the U.S.

Many soldiers thought the war was over when the battle began, she said.

"They gathered themselves with next to nothing and fought them off," Monson said.

In a heavily forested area with ground frozen solid, soldiers tried to dig fox holes for themselves, while the Germans shot into surrounding trees in hopes of wounding a U.S soldier.

The extreme cold, falling trees and splinters killed many soldiers, Monson said.

Peters recalls the frigid temperatures during the battle, at times plummeting to 10-below zero.

Sleeping arrangements were quite primitive in comparison to today's options.

"If you could, you would lie on the ground ... there was no buildings to go into at the start of that thing," Peters said. "We didn't have any tents."


When asked what the two sides were fighting for, Peters said, "That's a good question. What was the United States going over to Japan or Germany for?"

Peters said the U.S. had about 81,000 casualties in the Battle of the Bulge alone.

A representative for the North Dakota Department of Veteran's Affairs said as of December 1941, 46,000 North Dakotans were in uniform during World War II and 1,406 of those soldiers died.

Without the convenience of e-mail or the Internet, keeping in touch was sporadic at times.

"We could write a letter anytime we wanted ... it was a week sometimes ... nobody had time to do it," Peters said.

Often in charge of directing artillery to his comrades four to five miles away at times, Peters said the large guns were capable of shooting about 1,200 rounds.

"They'd tell us where to take 'em out with the artillery," Peters said.

While Peters didn't sustain any injuries, he had several close calls.


"They'd throw dirt up once in a while when a shell hit right next to ya," Peters said. "You got the hell outta there is all."

Adjustment back into civilian life was something that just had to be dealt with, Peters said.

"Just forget what was going on there and just go do it," he said. "That's all you could do."

After returning to the U.S., Peters began to seismograph in the south.

For three to five years, he also combined using a machine he paid $28 for.

Peters moved to the Dickinson area in the early 1940s and now attends yearly meetings of Veterans of Battle of the Bulge.

Peters said he believes not many people are aware of the significance of the Battle of the Bulge.

"He (Adolf Hitler) probably would have controlled the United States if we hadn't fought him off," Peters said, adding the "U.S. had to win, otherwise we would have become German."


Monson said she believes if the Battle of the Bulge hadn't happened, "It could have been a devastating outcome."

"I think it would not have stopped Hitler from his total annihilation of Europe," she said.

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