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A hero remembers the Battle of the Bulge

From Brian Todd
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Lyle Bouck survived the 'Battle of the Bulge' -- and helped ensure an Allied victory.
Wolf Blitzer Reports
U.S. Army

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After 58 years of marriage, Lyle Bouck and his wife, Lucy, are still helping each other down the front walk.

"I didn't think we'd live that long," laughs Lucy.

At one point, Lyle didn't even think he'd make it to the altar.

Sixty years ago, Bouck was a young, whip-smart lieutenant, commanding a U.S. Army intelligence and reconnaissance platoon made up of 18 elite soldiers -- the eyes and ears of a fragmented Allied force pushing through Belgium toward the German border.

By mid-December 1944, they had just about reached the border. But there was a huge gap in the front lines, and Bouck's platoon was ordered to plug an isolated stretch of it, on a hill.

"We weren't trained to occupy a defensive position in the front lines. We were trained to patrol and get information about the enemy," says Bouck.

But the enemy found them.

On December 16, a huge column of German paratroopers got wind of Bouck's platoon, dug in on that hill.

The Germans threw some 700 men, in three waves, at Lyle Bouck and 17 other Americans.

The GIs had their orders.

"They were told to hold at all costs. Basically that meant 'until you get killed or taken prisoner,'" says Alex Kershaw, whose new book, "The Longest Winter," recounts the story of Bouck's platoon.

But by day's end, hundreds of Germans were dead.

Some Americans were badly wounded, but not one was killed, and they were captured only when they ran out of ammunition.

While he was interrogated inside a house nearby, Lyle Bouck watched a clock strike midnight. At that moment, he turned 21 years old -- and thought of what an aunt had told him years earlier.

"She had said if you live to be 21, you're going to have a good life. I guess ... that was significant," says Bouck.

Bouck and his men didn't realize they had been among the first Americans to confront Germany's desperate final offensive of the war: the Battle of the Bulge.

"Had they not stood and held the Germans and halted their attack, or rather postponed it for a crucial 24 hours, the Battle of the Bulge would have been a great German victory," says Kershaw.

Instead the Allies re-grouped, subdued the Germans and pushed to Berlin.

Bouck and his men spent four months in freezing, disease-infested prison camps -- and were near death when their own Army division freed them.

After he was liberated, Lyle Bouck was too weak physically to file a combat report -- and not of the mind to do it. The 21-year-old hero simply didn't think he'd done anything extraordinary.

"We were in those foxholes and ... what we did was to defend ourselves and try to live through it," says Bouck.

Bouck says he still has no idea why those German paratroopers didn't kill him and his men after their capture.

Alex Kershaw has an idea.

"The paratroopers said, and others have said since, 'We had too much respect for you. We put ourselves in your position and imagine what we would have done: 18 guys, massively outnumbered. You fought like lions,'" says Kershaw.

Sixty years later, an old lion can laugh about it.

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