By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Exactly 60 years ago, Kremlin resident Bud Werbelow was in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge and preparing what meager Christmas celebration he and his friends could muster.
His future wife, Elizabeth, was living with her father in Czechoslovakia, where he had been transferred by the railroad company he worked for from their home in Salzburg, Austria.
On Dec. 16, Germany had used its strongest troops to launch its last offensive in the war. The battle, known also as the Ardennes Offensive, caught the Americans and British by surprise.
The Americans had 600,000 men stationed in the Ardennes, an area of dense forest and hills that extends through France, Belgium and Luxembourg. But those men were either battle worn and had been sent to the area to recuperate, or they were American soldiers who had just arrived in Europe. The Allies had not expected an attack in that area and were not prepared.
Werbelow, a member of the Army's 666th Field Artillery, was among the fresh arrivals. He had been drafted in November 1943. His first year passed with basic training, further training in Europe waiting for supplies, and relatively little action. That ended on Dec. 16.
Werbelow was trained as a switchboard operator, relaying messages between troops stationed at different positions. Whenever the Allied forces would gain ground, they would need to lay more telephone wire to continue using telephones rather than radio, which could be intercepted.
"There were so many ways to die - cold weather, the enemies on you. You just prayed a lot," he said.
The battle was the biggest in American history, involving more troops than the Battle of Gettysburg. Cold took more lives than the enemy did.
Werbelow remembers the temperatures as falling between 30 and 40 below zero - the winter of 1944-45 is among the coldest recorded in the area.
He said the men would wear their winter coats and then share sleeping bags to stay warm.
He grew up in Greybull, Wyo., and he took to war the memory of his father's warning: "If you ever get cold, you better not go to sleep or you're not going to wake up."
Some nights, Werbelow remembers, he didn't sleep. He stayed up talking to his foxhole partner, the man who became his best friend in the war. Many other men didn't wake up the next morning.
Those who did had to face the shelling.
"The weather was so bad, the airplanes couldn't come in to protect us," he said.
Werbelow remembers one instance when the Americans were finally protected by air support, but a single German plane managed to get through. The men had finished eating, Werbelow said, and lined up to wash out their kits when the plane strafed them, luckily missing them. When Werbelow looked down he saw that the head of his spoon had been shot off. "Ooh. This is getting pretty close," he said. He was very frightened.
For Christmas, which came in the middle of the battle, the men were promised turkey. It never arrived. What they got was more K rations - canned food.
"That's the worst Christmas I ever spent in my life," he said.
He and a friend found some wire and strung up some cans on a tree in the middle of the forest. It's something they still talk about 60 years later, he said.
The next day, Dec. 26, the Allies began their counteroffensive. Werbelow remembers that Gen. George Patton, leading a division of tanks, relieved the pressure on American troops and allowed them to advance.
Looking back, Werbelow mostly wonders how he made it out.
Werbelow's army records show a record of three battles, including Central Europe and the Rhineland, but the one that stood out most in his mind was the Battle of the Bulge, which is estimated to have resulted in 80,000 American casualties.
Though the battle will always bring back bad memories, Werbelow enjoyed his time in Europe once the war ended. He re-enlisted as an Army MP guarding prisoners.
He said that when he spoke to his father on the phone, he was always asked if he had gotten himself a homestead yet.
"No," he told his father, "but I got myself a woman."
Just before the end of the war in the spring of 1945, Elizabeth was trying to get back to Austria. She was 19 years old, and she and her father were trying to make it to an area under American control after they heard the American troops would not harass them.
On May 9, the war ended and they reversed their course, back to Czechoslovakia to get the papers needed to return to Austria.
Finally they made their way back to their home and reunited with the rest of the family there.
Werbelow was in Austria guarding prisoners when he met Elizabeth at a carnival. He wanted to see more of Europe, he said, when he re-enlisted. Very soon, he also wanted to see more of Elizabeth.
The two communicated through Elizabeth's sister, who spoke English. They were married in 1947.
Before their marriage, Elizabeth said, she was teased by people who did not want to see an Austrian woman with an American soldier. The U.S. consulate had its own objections to the union, on the grounds of, among other things, religious difference - one was Lutheran, the other Catholic. Those were finally overcome, and just in time to allow Elizabeth to accompany Werbelow back to America.
They have been married five times now, each time to each other. In 1947 they were married by the U.S. consulate, by the Austrian consulate and by the U.S. Army, all in one day. For their 40th anniversary they renewed their vows at the Kremlin Lutheran Church, in front of their five children. For their 50th anniversary, the couple returned to Austria and renewed their vows there.