Charles H. Fitzgerald: World War II Veteran and Hürtgen Forest Survivor

By Matthew Zielonko

                                                              My grandfather at the age of 17,                                                                                    the age which he entered the war

Most people at the age of 17 think about finishing up high school, and getting ready to move out and head to college. But for my grandfather, Charles H. Fitzgerald, the age of 17 was the year that he enlisted into the army and went off to fight in World War II. He enlisted simply because he figured that he was going to be drafted anyways, and he departed for the European Theater in early to mid 1944 with the 28th division. He fought with this division in the battle of Hürtgen Forest, where he was shot on the 3rd of November, 1944. He was then hospitalized for two months before regrouping with his division in January of 1945, and fighting at the tail end of the Battle of the Bulge with the goal of ensuring that the Germans did not try to invade France again.

Preparing for Battle: Training and the Transfer to Europe During D-day:
My grandfather began his journey in the army with training at Camp Picket in Virginia. There, he spent about ten weeks lifting weights and doing other heavy exercises to ensure that he was in good condition to fight for his country in battle. He then met up with the division that he would spend most of the war with: the 28th division. This division was also known as the Keystone division after the Pennsylvania state nickname: the Keystone State. Most of the men in this division were from the Pennsylvanian National Guard, so this was a natural name for the division (Goldstein, Dillon, and Wenger 50). My grandfather added that “Most of the people from my division were from Scranton”, a town in Pennsylvania. He arrived in Scotland, then proceeded down to Normandy just eleven days after the invasion on June 6th 1944, or as he put it “D+11”. He also added that “We knew what was going on, you could see the planes going over on D-day, but we were held in reserve, so we didn’t get there ‘till D11”. After landing in Normandy, he began to fight as an artilleryman in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, which began in September of that same year.

The Journey Begins: The Battle of Hürtgen Forest:
Shortly after D-day, the US troops began to press into the heavily wooded area of Germany called the Hürtgen Forest in the hopes of wiping the whole area clean of German Troops (Kennedy, 594). But the Germans proved here that after D-day, they were not out, and they vowed not to give up the land, so the two sides began to fight. This battle was one of the most devastating instances of World War II combat, simply because it could have been avoided if the US troops had not gotten overly ambitious with the amount of territory that they wanted from Germany (McCraren).

Below: A note that was sent to my grandfather’s parents informing them of the shooting. It reads: “Regret to inform you that your son private Charles H. Fitzgerald was slightly wounded in action three November in Germany. You will be advised as reports of condition are received...”
This battle was entirely fought by the foot soldiers, because tanks were simply too big to fit through the trees. The heavily wooded area also proved hard for the foot soldiers, as they greatly blocked visibility. The Germans knew the territory, so they clearly had the upper hand and they used it to their advantage (McCraren). They set up traps on the ground knew where to position troops, so that the Allies were sure to lose many men. My grandfather was a foot soldier, which was a very tough job in this battle “You get depressed” he said, “because there’s no real relief in sight”. In total, the US ended up losing 33,000 men, and the Germans lost over 30,000 (Wagner, Osborne, and Reyburn 594-95).

My grandfather recalls this as being one of the worst battles he had fought in during not only his time in World War II, but also during his time in the Korean War. He recalled that this was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of this battle was simply truly not knowing the fate of his own life from day to day. He told me that his division had some particularly bad luck and low expectations, as they went in to battle with the mission of replacing the division that got badly beat before them. He thought that the major problem with his division in this battle was that they were “spread out too thin...[with] too much area to cover, and not enough people into reserve...[so] the Germans took advantage of our position...[and] we really lost a lot of troops there”. When asked about the living conditions during the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, he mentioned that “We were right in the fox was really bad because we were blasted, and we weren’t making any progress going was terrible because you had to be deep enough to avoid the shelling...”. The 28th division ended up fighting from October to November, losing over 6,000 men in total, and my Grandfather fought for around one of those two months before he was shot.

Hospital Recovery and Initial Reaction to the Battle of the Bulge:
While he was recovering in the hospital in England, one of the most well known battles on the Western Front began: the Battle of the Bulge. This battle began with a surprise attack by Hitler on December 16th, 1944. With the aid of the element of surprise, the weather, and agents sent over from Germany to spy on the Allies, the Germans were able to go as far as sieging the French town of Bastogne (Trueman). My Grandfather told me that, “...because we were in England, we picked up a lot of information...” as well as that “we were all worried about going back, but it’s the fact that you know that you have to go back and there’s no way around it”.

Post Battle of the Bulge Combat:
                     At the top: a picture of my grandfather's purple heart. At the bottom: a picture of my grandfather's sharp-shooters medal
He was in the hospital for around two months, and then went back to France, were he spent two weeks getting reunited with the 28th division. He then went off to the territory near the Rhine River, where his goal was to defend the German border so that another surprise attack like the Battle of the Bulge would not take place. The change from being hospitalized to being a soldier again was a short one in my grandfather’s opinion. He told me that they wasted no time in getting him out of the hospital and throwing him right back into the line of duty as a foot soldier defending the Maginot Line to prevent the Germans from staging another attack against the Allies. After a good deal of time fighting in France on the Maginot Line, he was finally sent back home to the United States. He told me that soldiers were sent home based on a “point system”, where married soldiers had more points than single soldiers, and soldiers with children had more points than soldiers without children. My grandfather was sent home later than most soldiers because of his young age, and when he returned he was awarded the purple heart for his bravery and merit in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, and later went on to fight in Korea. He mentioned that the award was a “bittersweet” accomplishment, since the war with Japan was still going on, so he didn’t know where he would have to go back and risk getting shot again.

A map of my grandfather's journey

A picture of my grandfather and me today
My grandfather told me that, in the end, he did learn a few lessons from fighting in World War II. He told me that in anything you do in life, you should always try to have someone there to help guide so you know what your doing. His final comments were that “War was pretty should really have some there to advise you...even today with people going into have to know the reason you’re there...”. These are words to live by and I believe that every soldier needs to have bravery, courage, and confidence, just like my grandfather.

Click here for an interview with my grandfather


Works Cited
“Battle of the Bulge: Brief History.” World War II History Info. U.S. Army Center for Military History, 2003. Web. 5 Dec. 2010. <‌WWII/‌Bulge.html>.

The German Commander. Letter to The US Commander. Dec. 1944. “NUTS!” Revisited  An Interview with Lt. General Harry W. O. Kinnard. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <‌europe/‌bulge/‌kinnard.html>.

Goldstein, Donald M., Katherine V. Dillon, and J. Michael Wenger. Nuts! The Battle of the Bulge: the Story and Photographs. Washington: Brassey’s, 1994. Print.

Kinnard, Harry W.O. “’NUTS!’ Revisited: An Interview with Lt. General Harry W. O. Kinnard.” Interview by Patrick O’Donnell. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. <‌europe/‌bulge/‌kinnard.html>.

Map of Europe - Countries. N.d. Geographic Guide; Maps of Europe. US Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2011. <‌europe/‌maps-europe/‌political.htm>.

Map of The Battle of the Bulge. N.d. United States Department of Defense. Battle of The Bulge: 65th anniversary. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. <‌home/‌features/‌2009/‌1209_bulge/>.
McCraren, Pete. The Battle of Hürtgen Forest: World War II. N.p., 26 July 2010. Web. 1 Jan. 2011. <>.

Fitzgerald, Charles H. Personal Interview. Nov.-Dec. 2010

Troops March Through Hurtgenwald. 1944. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <‌image/‌3445310>.

Trueman, Chris. “The Battle of the Bulge.” History Learning Site. N.p., 2010. Web. 5 Dec. 2010. <‌battle_of_the_bulge.htm>.

Wagner, Margaret E., Linda Barrett Osborne, and Susan Reyburn. “The Battle of Huertgen Forest.” The Library of Congress World War II Companion. Ed. David M. Kennedy. New York: Simon, 2007. 594-95. Print.