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Surviving on snow in the Battle of the Bulge

  • 101-year-old Malcolm Brown of Winchendon survived the Battle of the Bulge after taking the brunt of a tank blast that injured him severely. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • 101-year-old Malcolm Brown of Winchendon survived the Battle of the Bulge after taking the brunt of a tank blast that injured him severely. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • 101-year-old Malcolm Brown of Winchendon survived the Battle of the Bulge after taking the brunt of a tank blast that injured him severely. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • 101-year-old Malcolm Brown of Winchendon survived the Battle of the Bulge after taking the brunt of a tank blast that injured him severely. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • 101-year-old Malcolm Brown of Winchendon survived the Battle of the Bulge after taking the brunt of a tank blast that injured him severely. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, November 07, 2018 11:26PM

It’s been 74 years, but Malcolm Brown remembers his service well. The Winchendon veteran, who celebrated his 101st birthday this summer, was a young man when he shipped off to fight for the 7th Armored Division on World War II’s western front.

“Two days after my son was born, I left to go overseas,” Brown said.

That was the last wife Ellen and baby David would hear from Brown for a long while, as he’d move from one harrowing position to another as his unit patrolled the front lines in Holland and Belgium, starting just after D-Day in 1944.

“We rode in half-tracks,” Brown said, “about 12 of us, and they’d take us, put us near the front, and we’d get out of the half-track and go up to the front lines.”

Brown’s unit was sent to support an infantry outfit; perhaps unaware help was on the way, the infantry — about 7,000 soldiers — surrendered to the Germans, and when Brown and the backup arrived, they found themselves in Nazi-controlled territory.

“We got trapped where they had been,” Brown said. “That’s when we got surrounded.”

Brown dug himself into a foxhole, clutching his rifle, canteen frozen to his leg, and kept on high alert. He didn’t sleep for a week to ten days, he said, with nothing but dirty snow to eat.

“I couldn’t move,” Brown said. “We were pretty well surrounded. Just had to try to stay alive. They had all sorts of shells dropping, bombs dropping all around us.”

Finally, a group of American tanks rolled by in the night, and Brown ran out and hopped aboard. He was out of the frying pan, but heading right for the fire; the unit was on the way to the Ardennes to engage in what would become the Battle of the Bulge.

Brown and the 7th were marching toward Germany, making their way through a small town in Belgium, when a German tank came around the corner and took aim.

“Of course all I had was a rifle,” Brown said. The tank fired and Brown dove into the doorway of a bombed-out house as shrapnel sprayed. He’d remain there, knocked out, for at least a week.

“When I finally came to, I was all alone in the town, no people – they all had been killed or evacuated,” Brown said. “The war had moved on another 15 miles to Germany. I was all alone there with my head shot off, whole jaw is broken, all that baloney. I couldn’t find anybody, walking down the street trying to hold my jaw on.”

Brown eventually stumbled upon a villager who got him back to the troops. After a stint in military hospitals from Paris to London, Brown had a rebuilt jaw, new teeth and eventually, a Purple Heart.

Back home, Ellen was in the dark. After five months without any communication, she’d received a telegram that said Brown was missing; a month later, she was informed he was alive, but injured. He’d remain overseas after war’s end, waiting for his ship home.

Brown was finally reunited Ellen and David, and enjoyed civilian life. Brown became a postal worker, and the couple had three more children and remained married until Ellen’s death in 2014.

Now 101, Brown continues to show the resilient nature that kept him alive through the fire and snow of the European theater. And each time he receives another accolade or newspaper writeup, he can’t help but think of the men who didn’t make it back from Belgium, and their families.

“I wonder what they think,” Brown said. “They lost somebody, those guys never came home, husbands or kids. I’m very sorry for what happened to them.”