Local veteran shares story of surviving Battle of the Bulge in WWII

Posted at 10:38 PM, Nov 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-11 21:26:54-05

92-year-old veteran Thomas Lee survived the "Battle of the Bulge" in World War II.

Lee says it was a split-second decision that spared his life.

After just a little medical training in college back in 1943, Thomas Lee was drafted to help replace the vast number of people already killed in the war. 

He says he got a rude awakening upon joining his unit in December 1944, in Germany, when a general bluntly told him what he expected for his soldiers.

"He says, ‘This is what I need -- my word: cannon fodder,’" recounts Lee.  

At the beginning of the “Battle of the Bulge” -- the last major German offensive of the war – Lee says he still considered himself undertrained to help his fellow soldiers.

Still, he followed his army's command and went to the front lines without a question asked.

"I celebrate the 23rd of December as one of the greatest days of my life,” says Lee. “My Lord took me out of that combat role, which I was not trained for."

Lee was told to wait by a foxhole, where he struck up a conversation with a fellow soldier who was from an area near his hometown in Indianapolis.

"He looked at me and said: ‘Will you do me a favor?' And I said 'Well, if I can,'” says Lee. “He said, ‘Instead of sitting there, will you lie here and talk to me?’ Well I thought it strange, but I didn't hesitate, and I said, ‘Sure.'”

It was a small decision, but one that would have a major impact.

"I no sooner had turned and “BOOOM” -- an 88 millimeter shell had knocked into that tree and knocked 3-1/2 inches of my tibia out!” says Lee.  

Now, the trained medic needed help himself. He got it from a doctor, who changed the rest of his army career.

“He looked at me almost with disdain and said 'You lucky son of a bitch; You're going home,'” says Lee.

But Lee’s luck did not follow him back to the states. After a number of surgeries, he decided to have his leg amputated. Still, he has no remorse.

Lee says it is how you view a situation that determines how well you handle it.

"If you want the circumstance to direct your life; if you don't have the fight in you; and if you don't have faith in something; your life is going to be pretty miserable," concludes Lee.