Hey, What Are You Doing Here?
You ever run into a relative in an airport? On vacation? How about in combat?
My grandfather's brother-in-law showed up 71 years ago on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge in need of clean clothes and a haircut. Grandpa's Command Post was the perfect pit-stop for the buck private to get a little special treatment. There he is below, Private John Bauknecht, smoking a cigarette and and wisecracking with Matt Konop, his brother-in-law married to his little sister, Eunice Bauknecht.
The two hadn't seen each other since before Omaha Beach, and the so-called "Ghost Front" of the Ardennes Forest was quiet enough for them to goof around at the Command Post. For weeks the war in this sector had days of dullness. So they got a kick out of running into each other just as autumn was changing to winter. Note the little bit of snow in the film below. The depth of the snow and the boredom were about to change, but the two of them don't know that. In the clip, John shows off his new haircut and clean clothes for the camera. Grandpa happily used his rank to pass along a favor to a friendly face from home.
Private John Bauknecht bumming a cigaratte and a few favors at the 2nd Infantry Command Post of his high-ranking brother-in-law, Lt. Colonel Matt Konop.
It's a long-shot to catch up with your brother-in-law during war, but grandpa had a few things going for him. First, all had been quiet on what was was called the "Ghost Front" of the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. There simply wasn't much going on (boy, was that about to change). Secondly, five of grandpa's six brothers-in-law were fighting in the war. So even if the odds were long of running into a brother-in-law, grandpa had five Lotto tickets. Back home in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, six blue stars were displayed in the front window of the Bauknecht family home, one for grandpa, and five for the Bauknecht brothers. And lastly, strange coincidences had a way of finding grandpa throughout the war.
Grandpa was a quirk magnet. That's a big reason why his story makes for a great one-man show. This particular coincidence with John Bauknecht didn't make it in "The Accidental Hero," nor did the story of the two of them running into each other again and shooting down a plane from the wrong air force.
After his December 14, 1944 haircut, John stayed over night at grandpa's command post in a large farmhouse just outside of the village of Wirtzfeld, Belgium. Then the snow started falling and by the next morning the Ardennes Forest looked like a Christmas card. In the film clip below grandpa plays with a little dog as John stands next to him and the snow flies. The big steaming barrel next to him washes another load of clothing, a wood-fire heated wash machine unlike anything they'd sell at Sears.
As the snow flies, Matt Konop plays with a dog on the "Ghost Front" of the Ardennes Forest. Winter was on its way. So was the German Army.
The film came from grandpa's 8 mm Kodak hand-held camera. He obviously had no idea the next day the German army would launch the largest battle in US Army history. The Battle of the Bulge was a surprise on the scale of Pearl Harbor or 9-11. Over 19,000 American men would be killed, 23,000 missing or captured, and over 54,000 wounded. The day before the battle, grandpa and his brother-in-law were just killing time, catching up on the news from Two Rivers, wondering what the folks back home were doing for Christmas.
Grandpa gave John a ride back to his unit, the 99th Infantry Division, where John was in artillery. Unlike grandpa's Division, the 99th had seen very little combat. As grandpa drove him back to the village of Muringen, 250,000 German troops and hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces waited just a few miles across the border to attack. Muringen would be hit so hard that later my grandfather assumed John was either killed or missing in action. And then on December 19, after three days of terrible fighting, John showed up again. He was fine, and the two men picked up their conversation about Christmas and life back in Two Rivers.
Below, they prepare for John's trip back to Muringen.
Brother-in-law John Bauknecht on December 15, 1945 about to take a jeep ride back to his 99th Infantry post near Muringen, Belgium.
Most of grandpa's unit, the 2nd Infantry Division, was several miles to the north attacking into Germany. It'd been six months since their landing on Omaha Beach and they'd finally penetrated the Hitler's heavily fortified German border. Most Americans, from high command down to the fox holes, thought the war nearly over.
Grandpa held his position at the command post without his defense platoon. His boss had just assigned them up to the front to carry stretchers where the snow was waist-high. So grandpa's command post stood unguarded precisely as the Germans were about to attack.
Below, grandpa walks alone in the beautiful snowy woods of the Ardennes Forest. Christmas was ten days away; Hitler's massive sneak attack less that 24 hours from starting. Grandpa hadn't seen any real fighting in weeks. Everyone believed the Germans were nearly vanquished as they prepared for a White Christmas.
Grandpa on a walk in the peaceful woods of the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, a day before it turned to hell. Over 19,000 Americans would die in the battle.
Holiday Appeal: Czech Webcast
Raising $2500 for Czech Tour Webcast
I am delighted to announce I have engaged a Czech film crew and an internet distributor for a May, 2017 live webcast of my show in the Czech Republic.
I've worked with this Detroit-based distributor twice before. The first time was six years ago years for my show and the webcast was viewed by over 14,000 people worldwide. In fact, that webcast prompted my first Czech engagement; and this year will be my SIXTH ANNUAL tour of the Czech Republic! I can hardly overstate the impact that webcast had on the show, on me, and on my Czech friends.
Now I need to pay for the 2017 webcast! The total cost is $2500.
I would appricate your help. If you would like to help fund my Czech webcast please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am still amazed my grandfather filmed the clips above and others while he was in war. My Czech webcast is in the spirit of his filming in Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.
If you support the webcast I will give you a live credit during the webcast, A DVD of the performance, a signed show poster from my Czech tour.
I wish you all the best throughout the holiday season.