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2013-11-14

From Battle of Bulge to Bandera, One vet's recollections of WW II

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

During World War II, Bandera County resident Dan Chant, 91, was there at D-Day, Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, among other military campaigns in the European Theater.
However, as he noted during an interview on Wednesday, Nov. 6, "We were always about two days behind the action." Armed with top secret clearances, he and his band of brothers served as radio intercept operators, charged with gathering and deciphering communications being transmitted by the German high command.
They trained in Mississippi as a Radio Intelligence Company, but after arriving in Europe, the name was "camouflaged," according to Chant, as Signal Service.
"We were in the same division as the Code Talkers from the Navajo Nation," Chant noted, adding, "The Germans never broke that code."
However, the Germans weren't so lucky with their communications. "One message we intercepted and translated was instrumental in turning the tide at the Battle of the Bulge," Chant recalled.
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II. In the early morning of Dec. 16, 1944, over 200,000 German troops and nearly 1,000 tanks launched Adolf Hitler's final bid to regain momentum lost during the Allied invasion of France on D-day. The surprise attack attempted to split the Allied armies and drive to the coast of the English Channel.
The Germans struck in the Ardennes Forest, a 75-mile stretch of the front with dense woods, few roads and only four relatively inexperienced and battle-weary American divisions holding the area. In addition, overcast weather conditions grounded the Allies' overwhelmingly superior air forces.
After a day of hard fighting, the Germans broke through the American front, surrounded most of an infantry division, seized key crossroads and advanced toward the Meuse River, creating the configuration that gave the battle its name.
In response, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, rushed in reinforcements, which thwarted the German advance. In short order, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. turned his Third US Army to the north, counterattacking the German flank and, on Christmas Day, the 2d US Armored Division stopped enemy tanks short of the Meuse River.
In the January mop up action, American troops attacked the sides of the shrinking bulge, restoring the front and setting the stage for the final drive to victory.
Hitler would never again launch an offensive in the West on such a scale. As Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill stated, "This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory."
Military historians agree. In terms of participation and losses, the Battle of the Bulge has been described as the greatest battle in American military history. It involved about 610,000 American men with some 89,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed.
"I have a disability due to hearing loss I got at the Battle of the Bulge," Chant said. "We were headquartered in a field behind the lines when the Germans brought in their big artillery cannons. They shot over our heads and the third shot knocked over our pup tent. The concussion just pulled the pegs right out of the ground. Those cannons gave off fierce muzzle blasts."
At the age of 20, Chant was drafted into WWII on Dec. 28, 1942 and "I got back to Uvalde and walked through my front door at 2 am, Christmas Eve 1945," he said. In the interim, he described his military sojourn as a radio operator who "... followed the Germans from Normandy, France, to Belgium, Holland and Germany until finally I hitched a ride into Austria on a supply truck."
Chant's arrival to the British Isles proved less than fortuitous. "I got drafted and I didn't want that. And I was sent from New York to Wales on a slow boat that bounced on the ocean like a cork. I was seasick the whole way, and I certainly didn't want that," Chant said.
But when he and his buddies arrived in England, everything changed. "We went to pubs, played darts and sang and just had a lot of fun. It just kinda turned into an extended vacation and tour." He had clearly come along way from his childhood on a "pinto bean farm" in New Mexico.
After his demobilization and return to Texas, Chant married a California gal and the couple headed first back to the Golden State and then across America. Chant worked as a certified Chevrolet technician and then transferred his skills and loyalty to GMC, retiring from that company in 1984.
In 1904, he relocated from South Dakota to live with his nephew and his wife on 20 acres off Rainbow Ridge in the Wharton's Dock area.
After Chant expressed an interest in participating in Bandera's Veterans Day Parade, a friend, Roy Dugosh, helped him reassemble his WWII uniform, complete with patches and all medals accrued during the European campaign. "It took three uniforms to put this one back together," Dugosh said, "and I was honored to have helped."
Proudly wearing his full uniform, Chant attended the Bandera Honors Veterans ceremony held Saturday, Nov. 9, on the courthouse lawn.
"It was a special deal for me to do this," he said. "I saw a lot of things and went a lot of places. That's pretty good for an old man."
(Sources: www.army.mil/botb and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Bulge)