In the center of the town of Bastogne, Belgium, stands a damaged Sherman tank and a statue of Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded American troops in the besieged town during the Battle of the Bulge. The American general became famous for his single-word reply to a demand for surrender.
On December 22, 1944, American troops received a message from the German forces outside of town. They demanded “the honorable surrender” of the town within two hours. General McAuliffe’s reply was brief and succinct: “To the German Commander: NUTS! The American Commander”
The story that the general himself sent the “Nuts” reply has been promulgated in popular culture, but the true story appears to be that “aw nuts” was his response as he screwed up the famous document demanding surrender and threw it in the bin. It was apparently the general’s aide, Lt. Colonel Harry Kinnard, searching for the words for an appropriate reply, who decided that the general’s response said it all. It was left to Colonel Joseph Harper, who delivered the message back to the mystified German delegation, to translate it into more understandable English as “go to hell.”
The “Nuts” response came to symbolize the dogged resistance of the encircled American troops and it seems appropriate that the general gets credit for the authorship of the brief but meaningful text.
The memorial statue, in bronze, is a head and shoulders bust of the general on a stone plynth. It stands next to a Sherman tank which took part in the relief of Bastogne and has its own story. It bears the scar of an encounter with a projectile from a, handheld Panzerfaust anti tank weapon, which entered its engine compartment from the rear. On the left hand side is a much less jagged hole caused by a German 75mm armor piercing shell. Four out of the six crew survived the destruction of the tank. When captured, of those crew members were identified as being Jewish from their dog tags and were treated very harshly, including forced slave labor and near starvation.
After the tank was recovered from agricultural land, where the farmer refused to let it be cut up for scrap in case it polluted his well, the vehicle has been in position in the square since 1946 although it official dedication was in 1948. The square itself is named Place Général McAuliffe.
Know Before You Go
Place McAuliffe also contains the last memorial milepost (or "borne") on the "Liberty Road" route from Utah beach Normandy to Bastogne.
The area has many more reminders of the Battle of the Bulge including a great museum, areas where American fox holes and other defensive excavations still remain, and numerous memorials to local events.