While most Americans were watching it on newsreels in December of 1944, West Fairview native Robert Welker was living it. America's largest and bloodiest battle of World War Two.
“They were killing them and wounding them. And there is too many of them getting killed,” recalled Welker. “Dozens and dozens of American soldiers getting hit here, hit there and all over the body.”
The 89-year-old former Army Medic was one of more than a half-million American soldiers valiantly repelling a massive German Army attack on Allied forces in Belgium and Luxembourg. History calls it the Battle of the Bulge.
“We wore a band around our arm, on our left arm, with a red cross on it that indicated we were a medic,” said Welker, describing the horrific battle scene from almost 70 years ago. “They just opened fire. They didn't give a damn who was on the front line.”
Somehow, Welker survived the slaughter, only to face months of starvation, beatings and slave labor at the notorious Berga concentration camp in Germany. Then, in the spring of 1945. with Allied Forces closing in, the German guards put Welker and about 100 fellow prisoners on a forced death march.
“They wanted us to die,” Welker said. “They just kept marching. No water. Nothing to eat. And no stopping.”
Details of the terrifying march are still fresh in his mind.
“This one little fellow. He was only about two or three behind me. He took off ran over to get a potato, They shot him right through the head and left him lay.”
After 15 days, the march ended abruptly when the guards scattered, ahead of advancing Allied troops. Within hours, the emaciated prisoners were swooped up in the arms of American soldiers.
“We felt so great. So good. I couldn't explain what the hell we felt,” said Welker. “We felt so light. We thought: we're free. We're free. Once again, we're free.”
And Welker makes it clear he is still ready to fight for that freedom.
“I'd join the Army today if I'd be young enough and well enough. If I could pass the test.”