WWII vet survives Battle of Bulge after being KO’d in foxhole – San Antonio Express-News

Army Staff Sgt. Bennett Stampes found himself doing a different job after the Nazis launched the Battle of the Bulge.

On an icy, snowy day in December 1944, he supervised soldiers as they dug foxholes in Belgium, a far cry from his previous assignment as an aide to a colonel. After helping some of them dig in along a big field, racing against the clock to firm up their defenses, Stampes jumped into a foxhole as the Germans were less than an hour out.

Soon enough, he eyed the enemy tanks as they crested a hill.

“I had my rifle, and I had a pistol. I got in my foxhole, and the tanks started coming across, and everything is coming toward us. And I got down as far as I could,” he said. “Well, I am a Christian. … And I prayed, and I said, ‘Lord if you get me through this, I’ll join the church when I come back home.’”

That’s just what he did.

A last-chance German offensive, the Battle of the Bulge began Dec. 16, 1944. It was marked by high drama and huge losses — 89,000 Americans killed, wounded and taken prisoner, with most accounts putting the German casualties higher, up to 100,000. In all, 19,000 U.S. soldiers were killed.

Hitler’s last great offensive ended with a decisive Allied victory Jan. 25, 1945. The war would be over about 4½ months later, with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower writing in a short, to-the-point message May 7, 1945, “The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

On ExpressNews.com: In his dreams, San Antonio veteran, 94, relives Bulge nightmare

Stampes, now 98, was one of more than 1.1 million men — including 600,000 Americans and 55,000 British — in the Bulge.

He didn’t last long. A Nazi artillery round knocked him unconscious.. He can recall hugging his foxhole but little else after the enemy shell exploded.

“That’s what saved my life,” he said of the foxhole. “A shell came from a cannon, and it hit close to my foxhole and knocked me out.

Army Staff Sgt. Bennett Stampes gently touches an American flag flown in Belgium over the graves of American soldiers that was raised and lowered by Stampes is seen in his home in San Antonio on Jan. 12.

Army Staff Sgt. Bennett Stampes gently touches an American flag flown in Belgium over the graves of American soldiers that was raised and lowered by Stampes is seen in his home in San Antonio on Jan. 12.

Josie Norris, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

“I was unconscious when the Germans came through, and they looked in that hole, and they didn’t want to shoot because they needed ammunition,” he continued. “They didn’t shoot me. God saved my life. He had things for me to do.”

Other things might have saved him, too, including the dirt and the snow that covered his body as he lay unconscious, but Stampes is alive and will tell you that God isn’t done with him.

Of course, he’s got something to do with still being here, starting with a great attitude. Though his wife, Shirley, died in 2016, Stampes now has a girlfriend, Marsha Box. He loves to meet with a group of veterans for breakfast every month at a Cracker Barrel in San Antonio and doesn’t drink or smoke.

He also has a valid Texas driver’s license, and the nonagenarian still tools around in his car, a 20-year-old Buick Encore. Stampes goes anywhere, confident he’ll make it home and, maybe, to another birthday this May.

The Bulge was a shock to the Allies, perhaps with the exception of Gen. George S. Patton. As the Allies readied for an offensive right after Christmas, his chief intelligence officer, Col. Oscar Koch, was tracking a buildup of Nazi armor and mechanized infantry units along with paratroopers and SS troops, all of which were in reserve.

Army Staff Sgt. Bennett Stampes is pictured in his home in San Antonio on Jan. 12. On an icy, snowy day in December 1944 he was supervising soldiers as they dug foxholes, a far cry from his previous job — working as an aide to a colonel. After helping some of them men dig in, Stampes jumped into his own foxhole and soon enough eyes German tanks as they crested a hill and took dead aim at him.

Army Staff Sgt. Bennett Stampes is pictured in his home in San Antonio on Jan. 12. On an icy, snowy day in December 1944 he was supervising soldiers as they dug foxholes, a far cry from his previous job — working as an aide to a colonel. After helping some of them men dig in, Stampes jumped into his own foxhole and soon enough eyes German tanks as they crested a hill and took dead aim at him.

Josie Norris, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

An Army historian said there seemed to be no purpose other than for them to be used in a sudden offensive of their own.

“A winter offensive made strategic sense, and Patton knew it,” said Gary Boyd, who’s with the Air Education and Training Command in San Antonio. “The key was readiness for a large-scale attack and rapid movement to counter it. It was a great achievement under war emergency circumstances.”

As a final Allied victory seemed inevitable, 28 German divisions stunned the Americans and British by attacking along an 80-mile line from Monschau, Germany, to Echternach, Luxembourg. The Nazis massed heavy tanks, paratroopers, SS troops and an elite Führer Grenadier brigade against just six U.S. divisions.

Germany’s Fifth and Sixth Panzer armies overran some Allied units and forced others into a hasty retreat, pushing the front lines into a huge U-shaped bend that threatened to break — hence, the bulge. In bitter winter weather, the 101st Airborne Division found itself surrounded and holding the crossroads town of Bastogne, a crucial road junction. It was relieved on Christmas as Allied reinforcements began to regain the lost ground.

Adolph Hitler’s goal in launching the offensive was to force a negotiated peace. His generals were against it, but if all went as planned, Nazi forces would reach Antwerp to cut off and annihilate the British 21st Army Group and the U.S. First and Ninth Armies north of the Ardennes. Resistance, however, stiffened over time, with the U.S. Armies shifting against the northern flank of the German punch while the British sent reserves to secure a line to the Meuse. Patton’s Third Army rolled in from the south.

Drafted at 19, Stampes was rushed to Belgium after the Germans launched their offensive. Once hit, he was pulled out of the foxhole by medics and taken to a field hospital. At one point, he awoke to find both his arms in bandages.

His arms, exposed to the artillery round blast and shrapnel, were lightly injured, with only some small scarring visible. But in the hospital, he got out of bed in a fog that wouldn’t lift and walked down the hall, not knowing where he was or what had happened.

Others told him about it.

Army Staff Sgt. Bennett Stampes adjusts his tie in the bathroom mirror at home in San Antonio on Jan. 12.

Army Staff Sgt. Bennett Stampes adjusts his tie in the bathroom mirror at home in San Antonio on Jan. 12.

Josie Norris, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

Once recovered, he took a slow boat home and returned to his family in Dallas, where his father, Bennett Houston Stampes Sr., had a business.

The younger Stampes moved to San Antonio, taking his good luck and life lessons with him. One of those lessons came from his dad, who introduced him to tobacco products.

Led into a bathroom as a kid, Stampes saw a cigarette, cigar and chewing tobacco.

“He made me try the cigar and the cigarette and the tobacco, and I didn’t like it.”

In the Alamo City, Stampes one day heard a pianist who played beautifully.

“Her name was Shirley,” he said. “Well, I was there for an hour or more, and she was playing music, and I said, ‘You play so beautiful. Would you give me a date?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ Later, we were married.”

A fading memory has left Stampes uncertain of when they married and the name of the pastor who presided over the ceremony, but they bought three houses over the years after he arrived in San Antonio in 1946, and he fondly recalls the decades he worked as a salesman.

In his recollection, Stampes was as resourceful as he was good. Early on, after taking over an account, he checked in with the clients lost under the previous salesman and slowly brought many of them back into the fold.

Stampes and his wife traveled around the country over the years until Shirley died. He went back to Belgium, hoping to find the spot where he fought his one and only battle but never tracked it down.

Still, there were memories.

“I can remember looking over the hill and the tanks coming, and the tanks and the guns and everything coming. They tell me that when I was there, a shell hit and knocked me out, and I fell to the bottom of the foxhole,” Stampes said.

Then, he added, “It went dark.”

sigc@express-news.net

Original News Source Link