Because I believe honoring our veterans is our patriotic duty, I want to detour from my normal blog topics to share the speech that my husband, Gary Brandt, gave on Nov. 11 at the annual Veteran’s Day ceremony sponsored by the Genesee Valley Chapter of the Battle of the Bulge Veterans at the Port of Rochester Terminal in Rochester, N.Y. Gary’s father, Joe Brandt, was a dedicated member of the group until his death in 2010. Today, there are only nine remaining members in a chapter that once numbered 99. Several of them were in attendance on Nov. 11, still sharp of mind. Here’s what Gary had to say:
Good Morning, everyone, thank you for coming to this annual ceremony to honor our many military veterans in the Greater Rochester area, and particularly those brave men and women who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and Luxembourg in December-January 1944-45.
In that Battle, over 1 million troops from the Allies and the Germans were engaged. American troops alone suffered 90,000 casualties, including more than 19,000 killed. The enemy had nearly 85,000 casualties and 16,000 killed. The American victory at the Battle of the Bulge halted the German counter offensive and within 14 weeks the War in Europe was over. As Winston Churchill said, and as is carved on the Battle of the Bulge monument here, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war, and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory”
My name is Gary Brandt and I am a native of Rochester. Both the families of my father and mother have lived in Rochester for five generations. Like your families, in our family, we have veterans from all five branches of the armed services, some of whom are still serving today in the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
I am honored to be asked by Jack Foy to speak today. Jack, Dick Brookins, David Bush, Tom Hope and Marty Cocca served as the presidents of the Genesee Valley Chapter of the Veterans of Battle of the Bulge until it assumed an inactive status in December 2009. As you know, Jack has given this speech many times. Over the years he has never failed to speak with dignity and with passion about his love for this nation and to honor the men and women who have served us. I would like to take a minute for us to thank Jack for all his work and dedication over the years.
Few Battle of Bulge survivors remain
My father, Joseph Brandt, was a D-Day and Battle of the Bulge survivor. He was wounded in battle at the Bridge at Remagen on the Rhine River in March 1945, and was sent home on a hospital troop ship in May 1945. Dad served as the treasurer in the local chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and passed away three weeks after the final meeting in December 2009. Jack Foy and the other members of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge presented the colors at his funeral, and our family will be eternally grateful for that honor.
The local Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Chapter started with 99 veterans and as of today, 9 remain. Recently, this past September, the Chapter lost Johnny Cipolla and this week, Tom Hope has departed. These were brave and kind men, and Rochester is poorer without them.
I’d like to share with you a few words written by John Cipolla and Tom Hope about their time in December 1944 in Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge (taken from their essays in the 2012 book The Battle in Common):
Johnny Cipolla wrote:
“The days were now bitterly cold. The simplest task was difficult. Opening a can of K-rations, retying a boot lace, or feeding rounds into a clip with numb hands could be infuriatingly difficult. Water froze in canteens. As the days wore on, news began to make its way up and down the lines. Some of it was good: the 4th Armored Division was fighting its way toward Bastogne. Other news was not so cheerful: we were completely surrounded and ammunition was running dangerously low.
Then the news that General McAuliffe had given the Germans the “NUTS” answer when he was asked to surrender brightened the day. The mood was lightened even further when we awoke to the morning of December 23rd to a clear, frigid day. Each of us knew, as soon as we saw the blue sky, that it was finally clear enough for the Allied planes to reach Bastogne and re-supply us. It wasn’t long before we heard the drone of American and British fighter planes, and the fighters swooping in, strafing and bombing German position relentlessly.”
From Tom Hope’s essay:
“One day before December 16th, I went to 9th Army HQ to see Capt. Barney Oldfield, the PR Officer for the Army. His office was in a girl’s school that had a high stone wall all around the block from the school entrance. With my driver we had to park on the street around the back of the block from the school entrance. As we got out of the jeep, I could hear two men on the other side of wall. One said, as he was pounding one fist into the other hand, “Mister Prime Minister, I could never allow that to happen.” It was the voice of General Dwight Eisenhower speaking to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
We raced around the block and into the old school building to find Capt. Oldfield. “Barney, is that Ike with the Prime Minister out in the garden? I could hear them over the wall talking as we parked our jeep?” Barney’s immediate reaction was to have someone go out in the garden and have the two men move away from the wall so any passerby could not hear them.”
Tom Hope’s funeral service is today at 2 p.m. at the Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church on South Winton Road. Please join us if you can.
Veterans Day originated after World War I
In our audience today, please raise your hand if you are a military service veteran. Please raise your hand if you have military veterans in your family.
Yes, this is your day, and I hope you feel a certain pride every November 11th.
Let’s talk a little bit about the history of Veterans Day or Remembrance Day as it is known in the European countries that fought in WWI. It is celebrated in the United States and in Europe on November 11th because fighting in WWI ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month in 1918.
In 1926 the U.S. Congress adopted a resolution requesting that President Calvin Coolidge issue annual proclamations calling for the observance of November 11th as Armistice Day. In 1938, the Congress passed legislation to make Armistice Day a legal holiday. In 1954, prompted by President Eisenhower, Congress amended the legislation to change the name to Veterans Day.
Like us, the French also celebrate Veterans/Remembrance Day with parades and ceremony. On November 11, 1998, my wife and I were in Paris at the Arc de Triumph, which also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers of WWI and WWII and where exists the Veterans Eternal Flame. We witnessed the French people, like we are today, honoring their military service veterans.
As a note of history, in 1961 President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy, along with French President Charles de Gaulle, paid their respects to the veterans at the Arc de Triumph and the Eternal Flame. It was from this visit to Paris, that after President Kennedy was assassinated and buried in Arlington National Cemetery, that Mrs. Kennedy asked to have an Eternal Flame placed at the President’s grave site in Arlington. If you have visited President Kennedy’s grave, you have seen it.
We in Rochester also have our own Veterans Memorials. Just across the parking lot (of the Port of Rochester Terminal) is the Memorial which commemorates the Veterans of the Battle of Bulge. The 10-ton, three sections of Vermont granite monument was conceived, planned and built by the efforts of the members of Genesee Valley Chapter of the Battle of the Bulge, and dedicated on Oct. 15, 2005.
It is a mere piece of stone with an inscription. Yet it represents the bravery and dedication of the our local men and women, and the other tens of thousands Americans who fought, survived, died, were injured or captured during those fateful six weeks.
Those of us standing here today, and the rest of America, will forever be grateful for the bravery delivered and sacrifices made during the Battle of the Bulge.
Also at the event, Steve Nash, senior staff member at the Rundel Memorial Library, spoke and distributed a handout of noteworthy books having to do with various wars since World War I. Gary also shared remarks from Gary Biekirch, a Medal of Honor recipient, who was unable to attend as he was speaking at other events.