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J.D. Salinger's Frozen Nightmare : Battle of the Bulge 1944

BA University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Geography & History

Caught Off-Guard

In the early morning hours of December 16,1944, thousands of heavily armed German shock troops crept through the American lines. easily bypassing the sleepy American outposts penetrating deep behind their lines near the Belgium border before sunrise.

As they advanced the Germans cut any communication wires, they found along their paths to help further isolate the American troops. Behind the shock troops German armored vehicles, including massive 60-ton tiger tanks, waited for the signal to advance. As the panzer divisions moved forward, they easily overwhelmed the weak American defenses that lay in front of them. This initial attack set in motion one of the last great land battles of the Second World War.

Nazi Germany's supreme leader, Adolf Hitler, gambled everything that the Americans were the weak link in the Allied coalition, the Italians of the Western Allies. His plan was to exploit that weakness together with one of the worst winters on record in the mountains and forests of the Ardennes.

The low clouds and snow would take away the American's greatest military asset, its overwhelming command of the air. It would also add a chilling backdrop to a battle that would change world history.

One of America's greatest writers, J.D. Salinger, would become witness to the overwhelming German attack in the Ardennes. He would only speak of the battle's horrors to his closest of friends, those who were there and managed to survive.

Salinger a member of the American Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps would never write about his wartime experiences due to the secrecy of his mission on the Western Front. Before the Ardennes, Salinger somehow survived the Battle for the Hurtgen Forrest which was the longest battle on German soil in the Second World War. The battle took place between September 19,1944 and December 16,1944.

Hitler would launch his new offensive along the Belgium and Luxemburg border with Germany at the exact location where Salinger and his fellow soldiers were licking their wounds after the battle for Hurtgen Forrest in which over 55,000 Americans were either killed or wounded. German General Walter Model took full advantage of the geography and the fortifications along Siegfried Line to inflict what has been described as a defeat of the first magnitude on the American First Army.

Now Salinger would become involved in a battle for survival in an even bloodier battle where Hitler's main objective was to kill Americans. There is no question Salinger's wartime experiences would affect his life, and his writing after the war.

Unlike many soldiers, Salinger was far from naïve about war. In short stories he had already written while in the army, such as “Soft-Boiled Sergeant” and “Last Day of the Last Furlough,” he expressed disgust with the false idealism applied to combat, and attempted to explain that war was a bloody, inglorious affair.

But no amount of theoretical insight could have prepared him for what was to come. Salinger would count among his most treasured belongings a small casket containing his five battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for valor.

Becoming a recluse and living in the mountains of New Hampshire was possibly his way of coping with what horrors he had experience during the war. These horrors most possibly influenced his greatest work "The Cather in the Rye".

Near the end of the Second World War Salinger would spend time in an Army hospital suffering what at the time was termed "battle fatigue".