"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We have felt, we still feel the passion of life to its top. In our youths are hearts were touched with fire." ~ Oliver Wendall Holmes
In December of 1944, German forces launched their last major offensive against the allied forces that were tightening their grip throughout Europe. The intention was to split the American and British forces, to encircle the Allied Army and to force the west to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler.
The stage was set in Belgium, in the densely forested Ardennes Mountains region and in France and Luxembourg on the western front. Bitterly cold temperatures, over-confidence by the Allied Army and poor aerial reconnaissance nearly cost the west the battle that would forever be known as the Battle of the Bulge, because of the initial incursion the German forces made into the Allied Army's line.
With the arrival of General George S. Patton's Third Army, along with improved weather conditions that meant strategic bombings of German forces and supply lines could be achieved, the Nazi offensive was halted and, with the new year, eventually reversed.
Still, more than 19,000 American soldiers lost their lives in the days of the Battle of the Bulge, including 84 American prisoners of war that were murdered by their German captives in the town of Malmedy, Belgium on the second day of the offensive. In short, in the words of one G.I., "All war is hell. The Bulge was worse."
On Thursday, May 26, an extraordinary event occurred in Middletown to mark the valor, courage, carnage and victory of that slice of World War II. The Battle of the Bulge Monument that was installed at Fort Monmouth in May of 2001 was relocated and rededicated at Thorne Middle School.
The event was attended by the full student body, foreign dignitaries, including the Consul Generals of Belgium and Luxembourg and the Deputy Military Advisor of Belgium. Most noteworthy of all, over 80 surviving members of the Battle of the Bulge and other conflicts of World War II were present in an era when many of the vets known as the patriarchs of "The Greatest Generation" are quickly becoming a dying breed.
"First it was 50, then 60 and a couple of days ago I heard we were up to over 80 veterans coming here today," one of the event organizers, Edith Nowels said. "There are guys coming from all over. And you know, many of them can't drive anymore. There was one from Long Island City who couldn't drive, but wanted to be here. So we contacted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and he arranged for a car to pick him up and bring him down here."
Nowels, editor of The Ardennes Voice and a member of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, organized the event, along with school officials and members of the community. She is also the kid sister of a soldier killed in the conflict, the school's namesake, Cpl. Horace "Bud" Thorne, the reason for the rededication.
Thorne died a war hero. He was killed on the fifth day of the battle when his rifle jammed after he had successfully, solely disabled a German tank. He was 26 years old, a lifelong Middletown resident, a farmer's son.
The land that Thorne Middle School sits on today was the farm his family owned and worked when he was a boy. The neighborhood beyond Murphy Road, across from the school, once sat on a hill where Thorne and his friends and siblings would sled in the winter. The event was attended by three of his sisters and many members of his extended family.
In honor of Cpl. Thorne, the school has created a distinction to be awarded every year hence. The nominees for the Corporal Thorne Award were named at an indoor assembly that began the day of remembrance and rededication. Fifteen students were named who exhibit characteristics of heroism in the face adversity. A winner will be announced at the close of the school year.
The indoor assembly included remarks by Thorne's sister, Nowels, and the school's principal, Thomas Olausen. Essays were read by Thorne students and the school's band and chorus both played. A solo was song by student Isabella Rosales. A documentary about Cpl. Thorne and the battle was shown and Cpl. Thorne's great nephew, Colton Thorne Rochelle, read his great uncle's Congressional Medal of Honor citation.
Following the indoor assembly, the unveiling and rededication of the monument was held on the front grounds of the school. Resolutions were read. The history of the monument was related. Wreaths were laid at the main monument and the two smaller markers for Corporal Thorne. A moment of silence was observed and taps was played.
At the conclusion of the ceremony all veterans were invited to a luncheon at the VFW Post 2179 in Port Monmouth. It was there that history was truly relived, that the spirit and spirits of all of those boys who fought together in the snow drifts of Belguim and France and Luxembourg in those days before Christmas of 1944 were young again and quick to recall, as if all of the years between then and now were, for an instance, nothing but a moment in time. Handshakes, hugs, tears, memories and much laughter was shared.
Edith Nowels, whose big brother was in her thoughts and words throughout the day, made her way among the reunion's happening from table to table. "This is what it's all about," she said choking back tears. "Oh my God ... just look at this ... this makes it all worthwhile. This is why we did this. So these men could be together one last time. I hope we can do this again, but I'm so happy we got to do it today."
Patch will remember the vets for this Memorial Day with special video interviews with those at the event to be published on the site in the next few days.