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Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
Horace, Odes III, c 23 BC
Only the Brave enjoy noble and glorius deaths.
Dionysius of Helicarnassus, Antiquities of Rome, c 20 BC
The Spartans at Thermopylae - 480 B.C.

In 490 B.C., Miltiades and his 11,000 Greek hoplites repulsed a Persian expedition of 15,000 warriors, routing them severely at the Battle of Marathon.  Nine years later, the Persians launched another even more massive assault.  Xerxes, the son of Darius I, led a force of 100,000 Persians across the Dardanelles over a bridge of boats.  The Persians marched through Thrace and Macedonia and into Thessaly.  The Greeks took up strong defensive positions at Thermopylae Pass, guarding the entrance to Boeotia and Attica. 

Xerxes reached Thermopylae in the spring of 480 B.C., and found the Greeks could not be budged.  Eventually after three days of fighting, a Greek traitor showed the Persians a flanking route through another pass.  To give the main army of 5,000 Greek hoplites time to withdraw, King Leonidas I of Sparta remained at the pass with 300 of his bodyguards and small contingent of Thespians to fight a rear-guard action against overwhelming odds.  All of the Spartans and Thespians died in the battle, but they delayed the Persians long enough to allow the Greek force to escape and reform at the Isthmus of Corinth.
  • Herodotus reports that one of the reasons Leonidas volunteered to fight the suicidal rear-guard action was because of an earlier Delphic prophesy:  "Hear your fate, O dwellers in Sparta of the wide spaces; Either your famed, great towns must be sacked by Perseus' sons, Or, if that be not, the whole land of Lacedaemon shall mourn the death of a king of the house of Herakles, For not the strength of lions or of bulls shall hold him, Strength against strength; for he has the power of Zeus, And will not be checked until one of these two he has consumed."
  • Just before the Spartans engaged the Persians, one of the departing hoplites reported that "Such was the number of the Persians, that when they shot their arrows the sun was darkened by their multitude."  A Spartan, Dieneces, was not at all frightened and joked about the strength of enemy, announcing to all within earshot that "Our friend brings us good news.  If the Persians darken the sun with their arrows, we will be able to fight in the shade."
  • An epitaph to commemorate the heroic last stand at Thermopylae was written by Simonides:  "Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by, that here obedient to their laws we lie."

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The Saxon Housecarls at Hastings - 1066

On January 6, 1066, Harold Godwinson became King Harold II following the death of his brother-in-law, Edward the Confessor.  By late summer, he was faced with two imminent attempts to invade England.  The first came in the northeast from his traitorous brother, Tostig, and King Harald Hardraada of Norway.  Tostig, Hardraada, and the Viking army landed in three hundred ships at Fulford, near York.  They quickly dispatched forces led by local earls and began to advance southward.  Harold II, who had been waiting in London to see which invasion would occur first, marched north.  His quick forced march (two hundred miles in four days) took the Vikings by surprise at their encampment near Stamford Bridge.  Hardraada and the Vikings had no desire to meet Harold's legendary bodyguard, the housecarls, so Tostig was sent to negotiate.  When an agreement could not be reached, Harold and the Saxons attacked.  Tostig, Hardraada and almost every Norseman were killed.

While celebrating his defeat of Hardraada at a victory feast, Harold received word that Duke William the Bastard had landed at Pevensey in the south with 7,000 men.  Harold gathered his forces, marched south to London, and by the evening of October 13, deployed his forces along Battle, or Senlac, Ridge near Hastings.  The battle developed into a deadly engagement between the Saxon infantry and the Norman cavalry and archers.  Initially, Norman arrows were harmlessly deflected by Saxon shields, and Saxon axes and spears shattered the first Norman charge.  Overcome by confidence, the Saxon infantry unwisely followed the retreating cavalry in reckless pursuit and were cut down by the Norman reserve.  Harold reformed his forces and the Saxons braced for additional charges.  The battle evolved into relentless pounding on the Saxon line by the Norman cavalry.  The Saxons more than held their own and inflicted heavy casualties.

Just before evening, William feigned a general withdrawal and many Saxons again broke ranks to pursue.  The knights wheeled round and destroyed the Saxon infantry in the open field, but Harold and his housecarl bodyguard remained intact and just as formidable on the ridge. William ordered final charge.  This time he first had his archers aim not at the Saxon shields but release their volleys into the air so the arrows would fall on the Saxons from above.  The tactic worked, but the Harold and his housecarls fought on until an arrow struck the king in the eye.  As Harold struggled to pull it free, four Norman knights (one of whom may have been William) attacked.  One speared Harold in the chest, and a second nearly decapitated him with a sword.  As he fell, the other two Normans delivered additional blows.  With Harold's fall, the Saxon forces panicked and retreated into the nearby woods except for the housecarls who fought to the death around the body of their dead king.
  • During the negotiations at Stamford Bridge, Harold offered Tostig one-third of the kingdom.  Although tempted, Tostig realized that the Vikings would not be satisfied with this offer and asked Harold what he would give to Hardraada as well.  "Seven feet of English ground, or as much more as he may be taller than other men" came Harold's famous reply.
  • While Harold's last words are unknown, a chronicler recorded the housecarls' final battle-cries as "Ut!  Ut!  Godemite!  Olicrosse!  (Out!  Out!  God Almighty!  Holy Cross!)"

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The Swiss at Sempach - 1386

When Leopold III of Austria led his 5,000 knights and 1,500 infantry into Switzerland in 1386, it was the culmination of numerous attempts by the Hapsburgs to force feudal claims upon the cantons.  In the past, the highly respected Swiss infantry had always successfully defended their freedom.  The citizens were summoned to arms, and 1,500 men assembled to meet the Austrians at Sempach.  As the immediate terrain was not conducive to a cavalry charge, Leopold ordered his men to dismount and form into bristling phalanx of spearmen.  Although unplanned, this trapped  the Swiss.  For the Swiss to attack a force that was four times larger seemed suicidal, and to withdraw they would have to retreat over ground that favored a cavalry attack.  Their cause appeared  hopeless until one man, Arnold von Winkelreid devised a plan.

Arnold convinced his comrades to form a wedge, and he stood at the apex of the triangle.  At the command to charge, the Swiss rushed forward with Arnold at the point.  As he approached the Austrians, he stretched out his arms and legs and hurled himself into the enemy line, simultaneously impaling himself on ten spears.  The Swiss rushed through the gap that Arnold created and broke the Austrian line.  Those Austrians on the flanks and in the reserve panicked and began to flee the battlefield.  This was fatal mistake for any army to make when fighting the Swiss.  They pursued the Austrians relentlessly and killed them almost to a man, Leopold included.  The Austrians never attempted to invade Switzerland again.
  • As Arnold von Winkelreid lunged at the Austrian spears, he is alleged to have shouted "Make way for liberty!"  Although this sounds like no more than a battlefield legend and a similar incident is also said to have occurred over a century later, a man named Winkelreid is, in fact , listed in records of the Swiss killed that day, and at least one contemporary ballad records the deed as happening at Sempach.

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The Old Guard at Waterloo - 1815

Napoleon, accompanied by the several hundred imperial guardsmen who had accompanied him into exile at Elba, returned to France and landed at Cannes on March 1, 1815.  He immediately marched to Paris and assumed power once more.  Within three months, he raised an army of nearly 200,000 regulars and 400,000 garrison and reserve troops.  The allies declared him an international outlaw at the Congress of Vienna and began to prepare their armies to invade France.

After defeating, though not destroying, the Prussians at Ligny on June 16, Napoleon turned toward Waterloo to finish off Wellington and the Anglo-Dutch Army, who had withdrawn to a low, narrow ridge just south of the town.  There the French charged, but could not pierce, the center of the British line.  The French attacked twice more, but the squares of British infantry continued to hold.  By this time the Prussians, who had regrouped after Ligny, began to arrive on the field, and Napoleon committed the first wave of his Imperial Guard.  The attacking columns were soon targeted by British artillery and suffered staggering casualties.  Still they continued to advance expecting to see the enemy infantry break and run as had always happened in the past.  This time, however, was different.  Wellington had given the order for his infantry to remain somewhat hidden, lying flat on the earth.  When the Guard had closed to within forty yards, the British ranks rose on command and fired a volley; three hundred of the Guard went down. Immediately the British charged with fixed bayonets and forced the Guard to retreat down the slope.

The immediate reaction in the French lines was disbelief.  It soon changed to despair, for never had this happened before.  If the Guard was forced to withdraw, then the situation must be hopeless.  Wellington ordered his entire force to advance, and within fifteen minutes most of the French army was in full retreat.  Only the remaining Old Guard battalions that had been held in reserve stood fast.  Then, as Wellington's cavalry and infantry surrounded their squares, they too began to withdraw, but in good order and beating off repeated assaults.  As they retreated, more and more of the guardsmen fell, and the squares were redressed into ever diminishing triangles.  With time, the triangles were reduced to isolated groups and eventually destroyed.
  • At one point during the Guard's retreat, a British officer closed in an shouted that the Guard had fought long and well and could honorably surrender.  Major General Pierre Cambronne responded with the, now famous, excretory epithet, "Merde!"  Almost immediately he was struck by a spent round, knocked from his horse, and captured.
  • A Paris journalist, seeking to make the most of the French disaster, gave much copy to the guard's last stand and published a story that Cambronne rejected the British call to surrender with the nobler, and even more famous phrase, "La Garde meurt, mais ne se rend pas!" (The Guard dies, but never surrenders!).

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The Defenders of the Alamo - 1836

By 1836, tension between the government of Mexico and one of its states, Texas, had finally led to a demand, primarily from American settlers, for Texan independence.  To put down the rebellion, General Antonio de Santa Anna led an army of 6,000 men north of the Rio Grande.  In San Antonio, 188 troops (including such American frontier legends as Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, James Bonham, and William B. Travis) garrisoned the Alamo, an old Catholic mission that had been turned into a fort.  Santa Anna laid siege to the fort on February 23 with three thousand men.  The Texan riflemen held off repeated assaults over a twelve day period and inflicted heavy of casualties upon the Mexican army.  Finally in a massive assault, in which Santa Anna declared he would give no-quarter to any of the defenders except for the women and children, he took the fort, but not before every defender and over fifteen hundred Mexican soldiers were killed.
  • On February 24, William Travis, the commander of the Alamo sent an appeal for help that has become justly famous.  It reads in part:  To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World . . .   I am besieged with a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison is to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly over the wall. I shall never surrender or retreat.
  • On March 3, Travis sent out a courier with his last report from the garrison to the Texas Independence Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  The report closed:  I will, however, do the best I can under the circumstances; and I feel confident that the determined valor and desperate courage heretofore exhibited by my men will not fail them in the last struggle; and although they may be sacrificed to the vengeance of a Gothic enemy, the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse to him than a defeat. I hope your honorable body will hasten on reinforcements ammunition, and provisions to our aid as soon as possible. . . .  The power of Santa Anna is to be met here, or in the colonies; we had better meet them here than to suffer a war of devastation to rage in our settlements. A blood red banner waves from the church of Bexar, and in the camp above us, in token that the war is one of vengeance against rebels; they have declared us as such; demanded, that we should surrender at discretion, or that this garrison should be put to the sword.  Their threats have had no influence on me or my men, but to make all fight with desperation, and that high souled courage which characterizes the patriot, who is willing to die in defense of his country's liberty and his own honor. The citizens of this municipality are all our enemies, except those who have joined us heretofore. . . .  God and Texas---Victory or Death.  P.S. The enemy's troops are still arriving, and the reinforcements will probably amount to two or three thousand."
  • Thermopylae had its messenger of defeat; the Alamo has none." - graffito found on a wall of the Alamo, 1836
  • In 1878, Louis "Moses" Rose, who long claimed to be a survivor of the Alamo, related the famous story of Travis's line in the dirt.  He claimed that, during a lull in the bombardment, Travis assembled the garrison's defenders and gave them one final address ending "My choice is to stay in this fort and die for my country, fighting as long as breath should remain in my body.  This I will do even if you leave me alone.  Do as you think best, but no man can die with me without affording me comfort at the moment of my death."  Following the speech, Travis drew his sword, used it to draw a line in the dirt, and asked all those willing to fight to the death to step over.  All but one man did including Jim Bowie who, as he was to sick to walk, asked that his cot be carried across.  Of course, Rose admitted that he was the only man not to cross Travis's line.

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The French Foreign Legion at Camerone - 1863

In 1862, Spain, France, and Great Britain sent a combined expeditionary force to Mexico to protect their interests and collect international debts.  Britain and Spain soon withdrew after it became obvious that try as they might, they could recover no debts from the near bankrupt country.  With their withdrawal, Napoleon III decided to attempt to overthrow the ruling regime and establish a puppet Mexican Empire; he knew that the United States was too preoccupied with its Civil War to enforce its Monroe Doctrine.  A contingent of the French Foreign Legion arrived in March, 1863, and was soon pressed into service securing inland convoy routes. 

During a reconnaissance mission on April 30, the Third Company of the 1st Battalion encountered a much larger enemy force on the Vera Cruz Road.  The company had an official strength of 120 men, but had been reduced to 62 men by disease.  As the company's officers were as sick as its men, the Legion's contingent commander had appointed staff officers, Captain Jean Danjou and Second Lieutenants Villain and Maudet, to lead the mission.  When the Mexicans attacked the patrol, Danjou led the force in a bayonet attack to gain relative safety in an abandoned homestead known as Camerone.  There, for the next ten hours, the sixty-five men fought off repeated attacks by 2,000 Mexican soldiers.  At one point during the battle a Mexican Lieutenant called on the legionnaires to surrender.  Danjou assembled his men and asked all to swear that they would never surrender; they did.  After the refusal was delivered, the Mexicans sounded the degueno, a drum and bugle call indicating that survivors would be given no quarter.  Repeatedly,  the Mexicans attacked until finally after a massive general assault they subdued all fires and overran the entire homestead except for its stable.  There Maudet and five legionnaires, out of ammunition, launched a bayonet charge into the mass of Mexican infantry.  One man was instantly killed, riddled with nineteen rounds as he tried to shield Maudet.  Maudet and another were mortally wounded, and three legionnaires found themselves surrounded.  A senior Mexican officer stepped forward and again asked them to surrender.  "On the condition we keep our weapons and you look after our officer," replied Legionnaire Maine.  The terms were accepted by the officer who stated, "To men such as you, one refuses nothing."   Thirty-three legionnaires died in the battle and of the thirty-one who were captured, nineteen soon died of their wounds.  Only one man, a drummer, was neither captured or killed.  He was rescued by French troops the following day.  He had been left for dead after receiving two bullet and seven lance wounds.
  • When the final three defenders were brought to the Mexican commander, Colonel Milan, he initially could not believe that they were the only standing survivors.  When he was finally convinced, he exclaimed, "Truly, these are not men, they are demons."  One of the men, Legionnaire Berg received permission from Milan to write a short note to the Legion commander:  "The Third Company of the 1st is dead, my Colonel, but it did enough to make those who speak of it say, 'It had nothing but good soldiers.'"
  • In honor of the battle, Napoleon II ordered the names Camerone, Danjou, Maudet, and Vilain to be inscribed in gold letters on the walls of the Invalides in Paris
  • Even today, in Mexico, formal military ceremonies are conducted annually at the site of the battle memorial which reads: "They were less than sixty here--Opposed to a whole army--Its mass crushed them--Life instead of courage--Abandoned these French soldiers."

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The 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn - 1876

In 1876, the northern Sioux tribes, led by chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, refused to return to their reservations and were soon joined in their resistance by the Cheyennes.  From February through June, Generals Crook and Terry attempted, without success, to maneuver the tribes back to their assigned homes.  In mid-June, Crook caught up with Crazy Horse who had assembled a force of over 5,000 warriors and, although out-numbered by five to one, fought a violent, though drawn, battle.  After the battle, General Terry's force crossed Crazy Horse's trail of withdrawal and sent Lieutenant Colonel George Custer's 7th Cavalry Regiment to pursue the Indians and box them in between the converging major Army columns.

Custer rapidly advanced along the trail and encountered Crazy Horse's camp near the Little Big Horn River.  Custer unwisely divided his 600 man command into three columns.  Major Marcus Reno and three troops of cavalry moved upstream to attack from the south.  Captain Frederick Benteen and three troops moved to the high bluffs where they would be able to observe the entire battlefield and take appropriate action if any of the Sioux tried to escape.  Custer personally led five troops downstream toward the center of the Indian camp.

Reno and his column soon encountered a superior force of Sioux and were driven back across the river into a defensive position on the high bluffs where he was later joined by Benteen's forces.  Together they withstood repeated attacks for two days.  Despite incurring heavy casualties, fifty-three killed and fifty-two wounded, they fared far better than the Custer column which was surprised by an overwhelming Indian assault.  Within one hour Custer and his entire 211 man force were annihilated.  One of the Sioux, Crow King, reported that, "They kept in order and fought like brave warriors as long as they had a man left."
  • No one really knows what Custer's last words were because no soldiers from his column survived the battle.  However, troopers in other columns last heard him as he stood on a ridge overlooking the Sioux camp, waving his hat and shouting, "We've caught them napping!"
  • Shortly thereafter, Custer sent a messenger to Benteen with his final dispatch.  It read:  "Benteen.  Come on.  Big village.  Be quick.  Bring packs.  W.W. Cooke. PS Bring pacs."
  • There are many Sioux accounts of the Custer's last stand.  White Bull's relates the last words of one of the casualties.  Isaiah Dorman, Custer's interpreter, was a black man who had married a Hunkapapa woman.  Badly wounded in the chest, he addressed the warriors and women that surrounded him, "My friends, you have already killed me, don't count coup on me."  Sitting Bull approached and instructed the others, "Don't kill that man, he is a friend of mine."  Sitting Bull then, after giving Dorman a drink of water, rode off.  Soon after Sitting Bull left, Dorman was killed; his entire body was slashed with knives and riddled with arrows.  He was nailed to the ground with an iron pin driven through his groin, and his genitals were cut off and stuffed into his mouth.

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The 24th Regiment at Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift - 1879

In 1872, Great Britain recognized Cetewayo as King of the Zulu nation and acknowledged his rule in southeast Africa.  Within seven years, however, Cetewayo had built a formidable army, and a British regiment of about 1,800 men, the 24th Foot, was sent to disarm the warriors.  The regiment, except for a company of about 140 men left to defend a small hospital-outpost at Rorke's Drift, was surrounded and destroyed by 20,000 Zulu's at the great rock of Isandhlwana on January 22, 1879.  Well over 2,000 Zulus were killed in the attack, but only fifty-five British soldiers survived the massacre.

Following the battle, although Cetewayo and the majority of his impis marched into northern Natal, 4,000 Zulu warriors advanced on Rorke's Drift.  Throughout that evening and night, they repeatedly attacked the British defenses.  There the defenders, led by Captain John Chard of the Royal Engineers, beat off every assault.  By the time the Zulus withdrew the next morning, they had lost over 400 warriors.  The heroic British defenders suffered twenty-five casualties and received eleven Victoria Crosses as a result of the action.
  • As the Zulus overran the regiment at Isandhlwana, Colonel Pulleine charged Lieutenant   Mehlvill to carry the Queen's Colour to safety, "You will take the colour and Godspeed and God be with you, boy." Despite a valiant effort by Mehlvill and two other officers, the Colors were lost as they tried to swim the Buffalo River to relative safety.  Only one of the officers, Walter Higginson, survived.  A patrol was sent out two weeks later to the place where the officers had crossed the river.  There, at the river's bank, they found the Color case, and a little way downstream they recovered the Colors.
  • At one point during the defense of Rorke's Drift, Zulus swarmed into the front rooms of the outpost hospital.  Several men, including Private Harry Hook, fought them off heroically while patients were dragged to safety.  Just following the battle, when a cask of rum was produced, Hook--a life-long teetotaler, passed a cup to the Sergeant who was pouring rounds and said, "I feel I want something after that."
  • When Cetewayo reviewed his victorious impis following the battles, he noted the many gaps in the ranks of his regiments and sadly declared, "An assegai has been thrust into the belly of the nation.  There are not enough tears to mourn for the dead."

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The British Eighth Army at El Alamein - 1942

The greatest North African battle of World War II came after two years of desert warfare.  Field marshal Erwin Rommel's Panzerarmee Afrika had driven the British Eighth Army back to within sixty miles of the Nile.  The troops and officers were dispirited and demoralized.  The army was in real danger of complete destruction.  In August, 1942, its commanding general was relieved and replaced by a relative unknown, Lieutenant General Bernard Law Montgomery.

Montgomery immediately took command and set about reinstilling confidence into his armored force, pledging first to defend in place (or die fighting) and then follow with a counter-offensive that would destroy the Africakorps.  True to his word, General Montgomery took the battle to Rommel in October by cutting the German line of supply.  After Rommel launched a massive counterattack that was stopped by the Eight Army and the Royal Air Force, the British attacked again in force and broke through the German lines on November 4.  Immediately the Germans began a withdrawal that lasted two days and covered 1,500 miles.  The stage was set for Operation Torch--the Allied invasion of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunis--on November 8.
  • After taking command on August 13, General Montgomery spoke to assembled his officer corps in Cairo:  I want first of all to introduce myself to you.  You do not know me. . . .  I have only been here a few hours.  But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived I am prepared to say . . . I have confidence in you. . . .
  • I believe that one of the first duties of a commander is to create what I call "atmosphere," and in that atmosphere his staff, subordinate commanders, and troops will live and work and fight.  I do not like the general atmosphere I find here.  It is an atmosphere of doubt, of looking back to select the next place to which to withdraw, of loss of confidence in our ability to defeat Rommel, of desperate defense measures by reserves in preparing positions in Cairo and the Delta.  All that must cease. . . .
  • The defense of Egypt lies here at Alamein and on the Ruweisat Ridge. . . .  Here we will stand and fight; there will be no further withdrawal.  I have ordered that all plans and instructions dealing with further withdrawal are to be burned, and at once.  We will stand and fight here.  If we can't stay here alive, then let us stay here dead. . . .
  • Now I understand that Rommel is expected to attack at any moment.  Excellent.   Let him attack. . . .  Meanwhile, we ourselves will start to plan a great offensive; it will be the beginning of a campaign which will hit Rommel and his army for six right out of Africa. . . .  The great point to remember is that we are going to finish with this chap Rommel once and for all.  It will be quite easy.  There is no doubt about it.  He is definitely a nuisance.  Therefore we will hit him a crack and finish with him.
  • On the eve of the Brisith offensive, Montgomery sent the following message to his 8th Army,  "Let no man surrender so long as he is unwounded and can fight."
  • In his book, The Second World War, Winston Churchill assessed the importance of the battle as a turning point in the war.  "Before Alamein we never had a victory.  After Alemein we never had a defeat."

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The 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne - 1944-5

In December, 1944, Hitler ordered a last gasp offensive designed to split the Allied Armies in two and destroy all Allied forces north of the line from Antwerp to Bastogne.  To succeed, the attack required an initial breakthrough, subsequent widening of the gap, and seizure of fuel supplies and road networks at St.Vith and Bastogne.  Despite reservations, the German commander, Field Marshal Karl von Rundstedt, followed his orders and launched the attack on December 16 while fog, rain, and snow inhibited Allied air support.  With the assault, the 101st Airborne Division rushed to protect the vital road junction at Bastogne only to find itself  completely surrounded and heavily outnumbered by German panzer forces.  The German drive continued, forming a massive bulge in the Allied line, until the attack was blunted by the 2nd Armored Division.  With the assault halted, the 4th Armored Division began punching a narrow relief corridor that finally reached Bastogne on December 26.
  • When General Troy Middleton dispatched the 101st Airborne on December 18, the only standing order that he issued to its commander, Major General Anthony McAuliffe, was "Hold Bastogne."  This McAulliffe did despite a severe shortage of ammunition and ever increasing enemy pressure that continuously shrank his defensive perimeter.
  • On December 22, the Germans realized the 101st Airborne Division's dire straits.  A group of two officers and two soldiers approached the lines of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry under a white flag.  They issued an ultimatum, signed by "The German Commander," that described the success of the German spearheads in the west and demanded the Americans to honorably surrender the encircled town within two hours or be annihilated by German artillery.  The message was quickly forwarded to division where General McAuliffe was just leaving the headquarters to congratulate the defenders of a roadblock who had beaten back a German attack.  He read the message, said "Nuts," threw it to the floor, and left.  Upon returning, he was reminded about the ultimatum.  After giving it some thought, he asked his staff how they thought he should reply.  The senior operations officer commented that "That first remark of yours would be hard to beat."  "What did I say?" asked McAuliffe.  When he was told, McAuliffe had a formal response typed on bond paper that read:  To the German Commander:  Nuts!  From the American Commander.  The note was then delivered to the German officers waiting at the 327th by Colonel Joseph Harper.  Of course, the Germans were unfamiliar with the American slang and arrogantly demanded Harper explain the note's meaning.  He did, "If you don't understand what 'Nuts' means, in plain English it is the same as 'Go to hell.'  I will tell you something else.  If you continue to attack, we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city."
  • Upon learning of the initial German success, Lieutenant Colonel Creighton Abrams, then a tank battalion commander in the 4th Armored Division, made the second most famous remark of the battle as his unit prepared to launch its counter-offensive, "They've got us surrounded again, the poor bastards."

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