Two WWII Vets, One a POW From The Battle of the Bulge, Recall Their Experiences Serving Our Country

The author interviewed these two old dear friends last fall, shortly before they passed away, to preserve their amazing stories.

By Rachel Alexander Published on May 8, 2015

Fresh out of high school in 1943, Orv Burns joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to a ship heading to Guadalcanal, an island in the Southwest Pacific. His replacement unit there was then sent to Bougainville, also known as the North Solomons, a part of Papua New Guinea. Orv was assigned to the gun crew of the 247th Field Artillery Battalion. There were still 5,000 Japanese soldiers on the island, so the fighting was hot and heavy. The motto became “shoot and dive for cover!” To celebrate Christmas Day 1943, the senior officers and non-coms served the soldiers dinner. They then watched the movie Holiday Inn outside their tents. Starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, and featuring the song “White Christmas,” it was later remade into the familiar White Christmas World War II film. By the time the movie was over, all the young recruits – most, like Orv, were just out of high school – were bawling and wishing they were home with their folks. Orv and his unit fought on beachheads on the Philippine island of Cebu, and he ended his military service as part of the occupation force in Honshu, Japan, as part of the “Wild Cat” Division. Previously, he had proudly been part of the “Americal” division, the only division with letters, not numbers, and known for their patch with the Southern Cross (representing a constellation visible in the Southern Hemisphere). After spending Christmas 1945 in Japan, Orv returned to the states early the next year and was discharged.

While Orv Burns served on one side of the world during the Second World War, his longtime friend George Strong saw action on the other, including the Battle of the Bulge. It began on December 16, 1944, and ended on January 25, 1945. As part of the 106th Infantry Division of the First Army, his unit of around 100 soldiers along with several other units were deployed with Allied forces in the Ardennes Mountains in Belgium. Nazi forces in German tanks surrounded the troops in the front of the deployment, known as the “bulge,” capturing them. They were sent first on a forced march and then by cattle cars to Dresden, Germany, where they were imprisoned in the basement of a slaughterhouse (made famous in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five). George spent Christmas there as a POW. Miraculously, most of them survived the bombing of Dresden by Allied forces, which began on Valentine’s Day with the Americans bombing by day and the British by night. George, weak and undernourished, was able to escape the “liberating” Russians and walked many miles alone westward to the American lines. When George and the other American prisoners were on the streets of Dresden working to clear bomb rubble, a civilian woman with a young child passed him, and, being careful to not let the German guards see her, placed a piece of bread with marmalade on the street for him to retrieve. George did this carefully, knowing that if they were caught, the woman and her child would be shot. He has never forgotten this human kindness.

Kriegsgefangene amerikanische Soldaten

U.S. POWs on December 22, 1944, captured during The Battle of the Bulge. (Bundesarchiv)

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