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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of December 24 - 30, 2002


Hurst recalls Battle of the Bulge

Bellevue vet represents county in Veterans History Project

"That's where I ate my Christmas dinner. It was real good. They brought a regular Christmas dinner out in big cans (to Patton’s Third Army advancing through Belgium to relieve Bastogne.)."

— ARTHUR HURST, World War II veteran from Bellevue

Express Staff Writer

The last German offensive on the western front in World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, began on Dec. 16, 1944. Coincidentally, it was the 24th birthday of Bellevue native Arthur Hurst, who participated in the U.S. Army counterattack with Patton’s famous Third Army armored divisions.

Hurst, 82, was chosen by the office of Sen. Larry Craig as the veteran from Blaine County to be included on a Veterans History Project Quilt.

Arthur Hurst, 82, never forgets his birthday, Dec. 16., because in World War II that’s the day the Battle of the Bulge began in 1944. Express photo by David Seelig

The Veterans History Project was created in 2000 to collect memories, photographs, stories and memorabilia from veterans. There are approximately 19 million veterans living in the United States today, but every day 1,500 of them die.

Idaho has created a quilt featuring a veteran from each of the state’s 44 counties, and Craig’s staff interviewed the veterans. The quilt was created by Joyce Cleveland of Idaho Falls, and quilted in Pocatello at the Quilt Shop. It will be displayed in the state Capitol.

Hurst’s life reads like the history of the American every man.

Born on the open western frontier, he went to school in Bellevue through eighth grade, when he left to work as a hand on ranches in the Wood River Valley. Drafted at 21 into the Army, he went through basic training in California, trained in Missouri, and then returned to California.

He shipped out with the XII Corp "Spearhead" of the Third Army. The unit traveled first to Scotland, then through England and landed in Normandy shortly after D Day, June 6, 1944. They were called Spearhead because they were in the forefront of the push west into enemy territory held by the Nazis in France.

"The Allies were inland about a mile, there were dead soldiers floating all around out there in the water," Hurst remembers of landing in France. "I was scared out of my mind."

The young Hurst, then a Tech Sergeant, "just wanted to get it over with so we could go home," he said recently while sitting at his kitchen table accompanied by his wife, Rita.

Gen. George S. Patton assumed command of the Third Army in July, which began the amazing "breakout" from Normandy, fighting four directions at once. By the time the war ended, the Third Army had advanced through France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Hurst remembers Czechoslovakia as being especially pretty and filled with red poppies.

Arthur Hurst

One of Hurst’s principal baptisms under fire, however, was when Hitler launched a quarter million troops across an 85-mile stretch of the Allied front, from Southern Belgium into Luxembourg, the week before Christmas in 1944. German armored divisions advanced some 50 miles into the Allied lines, creating a deadly "bulge" that pushed back Allied defenses and surrounded the American 101st Airborne divisions at Bastogne, Belgium.

But despite the worst winter in years, Patton diverted the Third Army on Dec. 20 from its eastern advance into Luxembourg, turned 90 degrees to the north, and attacked the Germans in the Ardennes. Most historians agree that no other commander and no other army could have accomplished this incredible feat.

Weather conditions improved greatly on Dec. 23, which permitted the Allies’ superior air forces to join the battle, and the Third Army relieved Bastogne on Dec. 26.

"That's where I ate my Christmas dinner. It was real good," Hurst recalled. "They brought a regular Christmas dinner out in big cans."

The Battle of the Bulge continued until Jan. 28, 1945. It was the largest land battle of World War II in which the United States participated. More than a million men fought in the battle, including some 600,000 Germans, 500,000 Americans, and 55,000 Britons. Over 76,000 Americans were killed, wounded or captured.

Living conditions over the winter months could be sketchy, Hurst recalled. "One night me and this buddy of mine was in our shelter hut, planes come over and start shooting at us. We was in bed, and a piece of flak come down and hit right between his neck and mine. Just missed both of us."

But hospitality and warmth were not unheard of while in the midst of war.

"Tickled me, when we was there in Luxembourg. They’d put a few men in each home. We stayed in one with an old couple. We’d just have our sleeping kits laid on the floor. This ole gal, every night, boy, she’d come in when we was in bed, and come in, kiss each one of us good night."

Hurst chuckled as he reminisced about the couple whose names¾but not their kindness¾long ago escaped his memory.

"Course, you know how GI soldiers always want a bottle if they can get one. Well, this woman’s husband walked 20 miles to get us a quart of wine."

But, the Third Army also had requisite horrors. They liberated several Nazi concentration camps, including the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp near Wieden, Germany, in April 1945.

"It was pitiful," Hurst said. "It was a pretty rough thing. They was nothing but skin and bones, and they’d run up and want to give you a big hug, tickled to death to get liberated from those camps."

About 2,000 prisoners were left in the camp when American troops finally arrived. Many of the prisoners were nearing death from typhus, dysentery and starvation. Many had been on the Flossenbürg Death March from Dachau, which lasted for 42 days with no water or food.

Patton issued orders that required the Germans who lived near Flossenbürg to exhume a mass grave containing the bodies of camp prisoners who had died during the death march and bury the bodies separately.

Hurst said that after crossing the Rhine, "Patton was up on a little knoll and he called us all up there, quieted us down and said, ‘Them square headed bastards says you wouldn’t cross but I see you bastards has crossed.’ That’s just the way he talked," Hurst said, laughing at the memory.

Hurst, who is one-eighth Cherokee—his grandmother’s maiden name was Cowslip—has a display of Native American items at home as well as a box on the wall containing his eight service medals.

"The last of ’em came last year," Rita added. "Once he started getting his pension from the Veteran’s Administration, they finally sent them."

Hurst looked amused. "I didn’t even know I had them all."

Along with the medals and an oak leaf cluster are a small parachute with which to float down German propaganda and a gold locket given to him by a French girl.

"She give me that locket to put on my dog tag chains to bring me luck."

"He was afraid to take ’em off," Rita added.

"I didn’t take ’em off!" Hurst countered. "They’re still hanging there."

During the war he was also a rifle sharp shooter and a field lineman. Also in the souvenir box are a few other items, including a bayonet from a Nazi youth, a bit of uniform decoration taken off a dead German soldier, and some Nazi uniform jewelry with swastikas on each interlocking brass piece, which Hurst made into a bracelet.

In all, Hurst participated in three European theaters, or major battles.

He returned home on Dec. 7, 1945, on the USS Augusta. He and Rita, who was born and raised in Hailey, married in 1953 and still live in Bellevue.

Happy Birthday, Art.


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