John McAuliffe shares memories of the Battle of the Bulge

John McAuliffe fought in the Battle of The Bulge and contributed background stories for a pair of images on view in the Wright Museum of World War II's new lobby exhibit.

WOLFEBORO -- Anchoring a new exhibit at the Wright Museum, two images of soldiers lined up in the snow gives a human face to the  Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of World War II.

Taken on January 13, 1945, in St. Hurbert, Belgium, a U.S. Signal Corps picture shows men from Company I, 4th Platoon, Machine Gun section, of the 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division in “The Chow Line.”

“‘The Chow Line’ photo was originally given to the museum by Cyma Rubin, who curated our previous American Soldier exhibit,” said museum Executive Director Mike Culver. “It serves as the backdrop for our new lobby exhibit, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of The Bulge.”

But it’s a photocopy of that image, which bears the names of the pictured men on it, that adds poignancy to the moment. It was submitted by Battle of the Bulge veteran John E. McAuliffe of Worcester, Mass. Having served with the 87th during the Battle of the Bulge, McAuliffe said he obtained it years ago when he was overseas.

“I gave a copy to the museum and told them I know all about it because I was in that division,” he said.

“The third or fourth one down the line in the photo died soon after the war, but his son still comes to our reunions,” McAuliffe said. “I look at this photo and think of the memories and friendships we had over there. You never forget those days. Those days were not easy.”

When the battle broke out, he said their division was faced with “very fierce action.”

“Our division was diverted to that area where the picture was taken some 100 miles from where we were,” he said. “That was an awful tough ride with 100 miles in open trucks with snow coming down and sleet. We were really under the weather, you might say.”

McAuliffe recalled other memories from that time, including some assistance.

“The Belgians helped out in various ways, such as building roadblocks,” he said.

He also remembers a Belgium officer making a gesture of striking a match and pointing to himself.

“He was telling me that he set a fire to the tanks of gasoline so the Germans couldn’t get them,” he said. “That man saved us. If the Germans did get the gasoline, we don’t know how far in Belgium they would have come.”

He expressed thanks that Wright Museum has chosen to honor those trying days for the new lobby exhibit at the museum, which opens May 1.

“The Battle of The Bulge was one of the hardest battles of the war and had the most casualties of one operation,” McAuliffe said. “In the matter of three weeks or so, there were 20,000 boys killed and 1,800 or more wounded. It is important we don’t forget that.”

Culver hopes the lobby exhibit, and the story behind it, will draw additional visitors this year.

“The two images of ‘The Chow Line’ next to one another work wonderfully together,” he said. “The images and the exhibit tell an important story.”

For more information, visit wrightmuseum.org.