For The Press and Standard

By mid-December 1944, the World War II in Europe appeared to be nearing its close. The Germans seemed finished after the hectic charge across France to the Siegfried Line on the German border, and few Allied commanders believed them capable of launching any sort of offensive. US soldiers stationed in Belgium and Luxembourg prepared to camp for the winter. Little did any of them know that German assault troops were assembling on the German-Belgian border;

Adolf Hitler had chosen this moment to launch his last great offensive of the war. Nazi Germany pinned its hopes for ultimate victory on one last attack in the Ardennes Forest. The German offensive was code-named Wacht am Rhein (the “Watch on the Rhine”), but is better known in the United States as the “Battle of the Bulge.”

This offensive by three German armies took place across a 75-mile front, the operation involved more than one million soldiers. There were 200,000 assault troops in the initial wave and over 800,000 in reserve, ready to exploit the initial success. It caught unprepared American forces on the front line by surprise, ruptured their defensive line, and headed west through the Ardennes towards the Meuse River and Antwerp, the principal Allied supply port in Western Europe.

One of the key battles took place in Bastogne, which controlled the main roads leading toward Antwerp. They were outnumbered and under attack by heavy artillery. General George Patton had turned his division around and set records as he led his division to assist Bastogne. This is where General Anthony McAuliffe, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division replied to a German demand for surrender with a single word: “Nuts!” Part of this attack included the men massacred at Malmedy where 84 Americans prisoners were lined up and killed in cold blood. Forty managed to escape and return to their unit. For some reason, German soldiers went among the dead soldiers and shot them again.

On December 16, 1944, my Dad PFC Robert Lee Ison was stationed on the front lines. He was a coal miner from West Virginia and was married with four children. He tried to enlist right after Pearl Harbor but at that time the Army did not want married men with families. As the war wore on, they began to accept married men and Dad enlisted in March of 1944. He was a coal miner working in the mines and lived in a home supplied by the coal company. He felt he needed to do his part to protect the freedom of his family and enlisted in the Army. He finished his training and was shipped to France in September and then onto the front line in Belgium/

When the Battle of Bulge began, Dad’s company moved forward into an area lined with trees. When they came under fire, he found cover behind a tree. As he leaned out to fire his rifle, he was hit three times with machine gun fire. He was killed instantly. He was buried in a cemetery in France until 1948 and his body finally came home. A military funeral was held and I was only six years old but I never forgot that sound of gun shots and the soft tune of taps being played.

Since then I joined the Army at 17 years of age, my brother and son joined the Marines . My grandson was sent to Iraq and several nephews served in the military/ A total of 14 family members have served in the military and carried on Dad’s mission to protect our freedom. That is what the sentence means when we say: “FREEDOM IS NEVER FREE!”

Noel Ison



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