Battle of the Bulge

On the morning of December 16, 1944, Lt. Colonel Strickler was serving with the 28th Division on the front lines as executive officer of the 110th Infantry Regiment, which was holding an extended twelve mile defensive position along the Ąquiet front", the border between Luxembourg and Germany, when the Germans launched their climactic surprise attack, soon known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 110th was holding the center of the Divisionís defensive line along the ridge road west of the Our River. It came under fierce attack by three German divisions, and elements of two others, whose objective was to break through the allied defenses, seize Bastogne by the night of December 16th and then spread out behind the allied forces in a drive towards Antwerp.

Vastly outnumbered, the 110th fought pitched battles with advancing German armor, often at point blank range. maintaining a determined resistance throughout the day from strong points along the defensive line. Communications had been disrupted by German espionage and artillery fire, so much of the fighting was done by individual units of the 110th in isolation from their comrades. Under orders to hold at all costs, Stricklerís men were engaged in intense fighting which continued on through the night and the next day, slowing the German advance. By then heavy combat losses and exhausted ammunition supplies had reduced the effectiveness of the defense to small pockets of resistance in the face of the overwhelming German force.

During the first day, the regimental defensive position at the town of Consthum came under heavy German attacks, which continued on through the morning of December 18th. With ammunition supplies almost gone, a withdrawal under fire was effected. Strickler and his small surviving force moved back to Wiltz, a key crossroads town half way to Bastogne. There he was ordered to slow the German advance by defending the town, which hat been serving as 28th Division headquarters, while the headquarters staff moved further to the rear. Supplementing the few combat troops available, Strickler assembled a defending force including cooks, clerks and drivers. Wiltz was soon completely surrounded and under constant attack by German artillery and armor. Finally, during the night of December 19th Strickler ordered the remaining American forces to break up in small groups and try to find their way back to the allied lines on foot. Hiding in the woods during the day, moving at night across roads heavily patrolled by the Germans, and after three days without food, Strickler and ten comrades finally reacheed the allied lines. The 101st Airborne Division had occupied Bastogne on the evening of December 18th, before it could be seized by the German troops, thus anchoring the U.S. defense position until General Pattonís forces relieved Bastogne a few days after Christmas.

Of the 3,300 men in the 110th only 500 remained when the Battle of the Bulge was over. Strickler was given a battlefield promotion to full colonel and was decorated with the Silver Star. He reorganized the Regiment, which he continued to command through the balance of the war, fighting in the Vosges Mountains and in the heartland of Germany. In the spring of 1945 he was named Military Governor of the Saarland. There, he was responsible for sustaining and repatraiting 40,000 Russians and Eastern Europeans who had been held by the Germans as prisoners of war and slave laborers.

Strickler was known by his men for being fearless under fire, for his physical stamina and for never being flustered even under the most arduous combat conditions. He learned to take short cat naps during the day, so he would be alert during the bombardments and fighting at night. He could often been seen marching with his men, while his jeep and driver followed behind. His style differed from most combat commanders. He liked to be where the fighting action was taking place, influencing events, rather than staying at his headquarters in the rear.

An ironic twist to Stricklerís own AWOL experience in World War I involves Eddie Slovik, a private under his command in World War II: In October 1944, Stricklerís regiment was attempting to breach the Siegfried Line when a group of replacement soldiers, including Private Slovik, reported to him to be briefed and assigned to the front. Upon reaching his front line company, Slovik deserted during the night before an attack scheduled the following day. He was picked up by M.P.s and brought back to regimental headquarters where Strickler dressed him down and ordered him to return to the front, telling him failure to do his job meant someone else would have to do it for him. This time, Strickler had Slovik escorted to a front line company where he was placed among fighting men, the day before an attack was planned. The next morning, as the attack was launched, Slovik deserted for a second time. He was picked up again and held for trial by court martial, which found him guilty of desertion. General Eisenhower approved the sentence, execution by firing squad. After his death, Slovik was buried in an unknown grave in Europe. He was the first soldier to be so executed since the Civil War.

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