A 1130 ON DECEMBER 22 four Germans, a major, a captain and two enlisted men, came up the road to Bastogne from Remoifosse carrying a large white flag. They were met on the road by Technical Sergeant Oswald Y. Butler and Staff Sergeant Carl E. Dickinson of Company F, 327th Glider infantry, and Private First Class Ernest D. Premetz of the 327th Medical Detachment.
Premetz could speak German. The captain could speak English. He said to Butler, "We are parliamentaires."
The men took the Germans to the house where Lieutenant Leslie E. Smith of Weapons Platoon, Company F, 327th Infantry, had his command post. Leaving the two German enlisted men at the command post, Smith blindfolded the two officers and led them over the hill to the command post of Captain James F. Adams, commanding officer of Company F. Adams called 2d Battalion headquarters in Marvie, Battalion called Regiment in Bastogne, and the 327th Headquarters called the 101st Division, relaying the word that some Germans had come in with surrender terms.1 The rumor quickly spread around the front that the enemy had had enough and that a party had arrived to arrange a surrender. Quiet held the front. Many of the American defenders crawled out of their cover and spent the noon hour shaving, washing and going to the straddle trenches.2
Major Alvin Jones took the terms to General McAuliffe and Lieutenant Colonel Ned D. Moore who was acting Chief of Staff. The paper called for the surrender of the Bastogne garrison and threatened its complete destruction otherwise.3 It appealed to the "Well known American humanity" to save the people of Bastogne from further suffering. The Americans were to have two hours in which to consider. The two enemy officers would have to be released by 1400 but another hour would pass before the Germans would resume their attack.4
Colonel Harper, commanding the 327th, went with Jones to
Division Headquarters. The two German officers were left with Captain Adams. Members of the staff were grouped around General McAuliffe when Harper and Jones arrived.5 McAuliffe asked someone what the paper contained and was told that it requested a surrender.
He laughed and said, "Aw, nuts!" It really seemed funny to him at the time. He figured he was giving the Germans "one hell of a beating" and that all of his men knew it. The demand was all out of line with the existing situation.6
But McAuliffe realized that some kind of reply had to be made and he sat down to think it over. Pencil in hand, he sat there pondering for a few minutes and then he remarked, "Well, I don't know what to tell them." He asked the staff what they thought and Colonel Kinnard, his G-3 replied, "That first remark of yours would be hard to beat."
General McAuliffe didn't understand immediately what Kinnard was referring to. Kinnard reminded him, "You said 'Nuts!'" That drew applause all around. All members of the staff agreed with much enthusiasm and because of their approval McAuliffe decided to send that message back to the Germans.7
Then he called Colonel Harper in and asked him how he would reply to the message. Harper thought for a minute but before he could compose anything General McAuliffe gave him the paper on which he had written his one-word reply and asked, "Will you see that it's delivered?" "I will deliver it myself," answered Harper. "It will be a lot of fun." McAuliffe told him not to go into the German lines.8
Colonel Harper returned to the command post of Company F. (Plate 29.) The two Germans were standing in the wood blindfolded and under guard. Harper said, "I have the American commander's reply."
The German captain asked, "Is it written or verbal?"
"It is written," said Harper.
And then be said to the German major, "I will stick it in your hand."
The German captain translated the message. The major then
asked, "Is the reply negative or affirmative? If it is the latter I will negotiate further."
All of this time the Germans were acting in an upstage and patronizing manner. Colonel Harper was beginning to lose his temper. He said, "The reply is decidedly not affirmative." Then he added, "If you continue this foolish attack your losses will be tremendous." The major nodded his head.
Harper put the two officers in the jeep and took them back to the main road where the German privates were waiting with the white flag.
He then removed the blindfold and said to them, speaking through the German captain, "If you don't understand what 'Nuts' means, in plain English it is the same as 'Go to hell.' And I will tell you something else—if you continue to attack we will kill every goddam German that tries to break into this city."9
The German major and captain saluted very stiffly. The captain said, "We will kill many Americans. This is war." It was then 1350.10
"On your way, Bud," said Colonel Harper, "and good luck to you.
The four Germans walked on down the road. Harper returned to the house, regretting that his tongue had slipped and that he had wished them good luck.11
The rest of the day was comparatively quiet. The wholesale destruction by artillery that the Germans had promised did not materalize [sic]. But, at 1555 there was an attack by some 50 of the enemy against Company F, 327th Glider Infantry, over precisely the same ground where the German mediators had come into our lines. The attack was broken up by small-arms and artillery fire. At 1700 another small attack was again pressed to within 200 yards of Company Fs lines but was beaten back by fire.
The terrain at this spot formed a kind of bowl. The Germans came with their tanks into the bottom of the bowl and fired up against the foxholes along the slope. The men under Sergeant Butler, who had the rifle platoon, and Lieutenant Smith, who had the weapons platoon, held their ground and drove the attackers off with infantry fire alone.12
The main event for that day was summed up, though not too neatly, in the G-2 Periodic Report No. 4:
"The Commanding General's answer was, with a sarcastic air of humorous tolerance, emphatically negative. The catastrophic carnage of human lives resulting from the artillery barrage of astronomic proportions which was to be the fate of the defending troops failed to materialize.
"The well known American humanity was considerate of the threatened possible civilian losses by firing artillery concentrations directed at the enemy's impudence."13
It was a victory for eloquence at some expense to grammar but in keeping with the other grim humors of the day.
That night, December 22, the Luftwaffe began its bombing attack which was repeated on the next four nights.14