Winter, war, and GI Joes.
WINTER AND WORLD WAR II: that terrible, unendurable combination ceaselessly fascinates me. There's something grimly awe-inspiring about our Gls battling not only their human enemy, but also the harsh, unyielding forces of nature in places like the Ardennes in the winter of 1944-45.
For them, staying alive and on duty meant finding warmth--without the high-tech accouterments we take for granted today, such as our lightweight, wind-resistant, moisture-wicking, heat-retaining coats.
Many GIs in the snowy Battle of the Bulge were knocked out of action by horrific foot maladies brought on by constantly damp socks and boots and unrelenting cold. Every foxhole dug in snowy, frozen ground ended up with an icy puddle on the bottom. Unfortunately, that was where the soldiers had to stand. The US Army tried to outfit men with over-the-boot galoshes, but waterproof, heavily insulated shoepacs proved to be the best defense for the feet that carried America's war effort forward.
I admire the long-suffering WWII GIs of winter from the safety of home, through books, TV, and the Internet. For some people, though, that's not enough. My friend Joe Razes, a contributing editor of this magazine, wanted something more tangible, at least a tiny taste of what our boys went through. Not having a time machine, Joe settled for the next best thing: he participated in a reenactment of the Bulge here in Central Pennsylvania. In January. You can read how that turned out in this issue's installment of Landings, our travel article.
My air force-veteran dad always told me, "Son, if you decide to join the military, stay away from the army. You'll end up crawling around in the mud." It wasn't a put-down of America's ground forces, or air force chauvinism. In a way, it was a compliment--an acknowledgment that the infantry does the hard, dangerous, but indispensable work of gaining and holding contested ground, foot by foot.
This issue's guide to identifying the basic US military awards of World War II is admittedly just an introduction. We couldn't squeeze in every medal or badge a GI could have received. But there is one that I just can't bear to omit, even though it didn't fit in the photo essay: the Combat Infantryman Badge (shown above). This badge, which General George S. Patton, Jr., coveted but didn't earn, was (and is) bestowed on any US infantryman below the rank of colonel who personally participated in combat with the enemy. I present it here, with my insulated, waterproof hat off to the hard-slogging ground-pounders of the Ardennes, and all of World War II.
PS: This issue is the place to do your holiday shopping for WWII-loving friends and loved ones (and for yourself, if you've been good)! Please patronize our advertisers, and check out our own exceptional offerings, including our new STARS IN WWII limited edition.
James P. Kushlan
Editor and Publisher, America in WWII