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Battle of Bulge veterans gather for ceremonies near Greensburg

Tribune-Review - 12/14/2019

Dec. 14--Seventy-five years after the massive German offensive in December 1944, the cold still stands out in the mind of Battle of the Bulge veteran Joseph Folino of Hempfield.

"The bigger enemy was the cold. It was below zero and there was no shelter for us. Your were not allowed to build a fire, cause of the (German) artillery," that would spot us, Folino said Saturday following Battle of the Bulge memorial ceremonies at the Pennsylvania Army National Guard Armory in Hempfield.

"We ate frozen rations," he said. "The first hot meal we got was in February."

The Battle of the Bulge during World War II was the German's last offensive in the war, an attempt to split Allied lines and capture the port Antwerp. The surprise attack created a "bulge" in the Allied lines. By the time the battle was over on Jan. 25, 1945, there were about 80,000 Allied casualties, including about 20,000 Americans killed.

For LeRoy "Whitey" Schaller of Fairfield, one of the lasting memories from the battle was its aftermath for him. He endured five months as a German prisoner of war, captured in the early stages of the battle that the Germans launched on Dec. 16, 1944.

"We all lost 45% of our weight. They were not feeding us. They were withholding Red Cross packages (of food). It was a deliberate attempt to kill us off," Schaller said

During a reception at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 33 in Greensburg, Schaller recalled the intense fighting in the Hurtgen forest.

"We were overwhelmed and we were without ammunition," Schaller said.

Folino was part of a tank destroyer unit that was stationed on Elsenborn Ridge in Belgium, holding off a German attack that was part of the offensive. Folino recalled how he his unit was moved to Malmedy, where American prisoners were slaughtered by the German SS troops in the early stages of the battle.

Among about 100 people attending the ceremonies was Agnes Lapa of Greensburg, widow of Chester Lapa, who suffered from frostbitten feet during the battle.

"It is a wonderful memorial to the Battle of the Bugle veterans," Lapa said of the Saturday events.

Lapa, who died in 2014, was among a small group of area Battle of Bulge veterans who participated in the annual ceremonies at the National Guard Armory.

"This was dear to Chester's heart. It means so much to me and our family," Lapa said.

VFW member George Kleckner told the two remaining Battle of the Bulge veterans at the ceremony that they were not alone at the memorial..

"There's a cloud of witnesses," that are here, Kleckner said, recalling the names of other veterans who had been with them in previous years, including James Herrington, Harry McCraken and Lapa.

Kleckner praised those soldiers of the Greatest Generation for the "strength of their being, the depth of their love and the courage of their actions.

Both Schaller and Folino are 97. They said they intend to be at near's years's ceremonies, "God willing."

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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