Eugene Leavy has crystal-clear memories of what it was like to fight as a teenager in the momentous Battle of the Bulge during World War II, memories that center on the fear he felt, the bitter cold and the seemingly random nature of who survived, and who did not.
Leavy, 94, shared his story Friday with U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-Huntington, who was heading to Belgium this weekend for the 75th anniversary of the battle that resulted from the last major and ultimately unsuccessful offensive by the Germans trying to block the Allied advance into Germany.
Enlisting at 17, he was told the Army would send him to college to become an intelligence officer. But combat manpower needs intervened and he ended up with a rifle in his hands and at the wheel of a Jeep, delivering messages on the battlefield, which led to his winning a Bronze Star for his success under enemy fire.
Leavy described what it was like to be a soldier in the midst of the five-week battle. “I didn’t even know I was in the Battle of the Bulge” at the time, he said. “I was a PFC (private first class). The sergeant told me what to do and I did it,” making a joke about how it wasn’t all that different from having his mother order him around.
It was the cold that sticks in the minds of many as poorly outfitted American soldiers held the line against the German advance in the freezing weather for the nearly five weeks that the battle raged.
Leavy remembers wiring blankets together to form a sleeping bag, and men wearing towels around their necks and chests to keep themselves warm. But he, like many veterans, rejects the label of hero, pointing instead to those who didn’t make it home as the real heroes of war. He also recalls the constant presence of fear and how that fear and, as a low-ranking soldier, lack of information about the battle plans kept him focused on what was immediately in front of him. “If you had a can of C-rations, you focused on eating,” he said.
After the war, Leavy remained in Germany, having achieved the rank of sergeant and participating in the de-Nazification program to keep former Nazis out of government. He married a German woman, and, after they returned to the US, raised two children.
The battle, the bloodiest American fight during World War II, is depicted in numerous Hollywood movies and TV, including the Band of Brothers series on HBO.