WEST BETHESDA, Md. —
To highlight the service of the nation's veterans, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division held its annual Veterans Day program Nov. 9 in West Bethesda, Maryland.
The program, hosted by Carderock's Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG), featured World War II and Battle of the Bulge veteran, retired Army Lt. Col. Alfred Shehab.
"Today, we have the honor of hosting one of the heroes of the Battle of the Bulge," said Dr. Tim Arcano, Carderock's technical director, as he introduced Shehab to the packed room. "We will be privileged to listen as he recounts his experiences leading patrols against the enemy at war, and what it means to him to have served honorably in the military in peace and at war."
Shehab began his Army career in 1942, when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He said two movies, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936) and "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935), inspired him to become a cavalry officer.
"It's really something to have an ambition, and to be able, at age 21, to realize that ambition," Shehab said.
He said he didn't wait to be drafted into the Army; he wanted to be there.
Shehab talked about leading a platoon into Germany and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Dec. 16, 1944-Jan. 25, 1945. He said it was a large, highly-planned offensive by the Germans, but he and his fellow Soldiers held the line in Monschau, Germany.
He said they were lucky because they had radios and artillery, and even huddled in a nice hunting lodge on the edge of the woods at one point.
But that didn't last, and the battle continued.
The area in Germany where the battle took place was mostly farmland, and Shehab said they would often supplement their rations with cows, chickens, and pigs. He related one story about corralling a cow and taking his machine gun to kill her.
"I looked at her; she looked at me. I couldn't do it," Shehab said, adding he had to have one of his Soldiers from West Virginia take care of killing the cow.
He said he told that story for a reason, as he led into another story about killing a German soldier who had stepped into their fire lane. They looked at each other and Shehab shot and killed the German soldier before he was killed. After searching the German soldier's pockets, they found a photo of a woman and two young children.
"How could I so easily kill this man and ruin his family, but I couldn't kill a cow?" Shehab asked. "I still don't know the answer to that."
The Americans won the Battle of the Bulge, but victory came at a price as both sides suffered casualties during the six-week battle. Americans had about 81,000 casualties out of the 600,000 troops, and about 14,000 soldiers killed.
"I don't dwell on the casualties," Shehab said. "We had casualties; you had to expect that. But when the country recognizes veterans, or when I go to Arlington and the bugle blows 'Taps,' I see all of those fellows. I see them then."
Shehab said he often feels embarrassed when people thank him for his service, since he chose to be there and continued serving after the war.
"I enjoyed the Army -- the people, the different jobs, different countries," Shehab said. "I went to some interesting places."
At one point during his career, he served as the armor advisor to Saudi Arabia, and in 1958 he served as the special assistant to commander, American Land Forces, Middle East in Lebanon.
Shehab retired from the Army in 1963 and worked for NASA for the following 20 years. He is the president of the Battle of the Bulge Historical Foundation and a member of the Battle of the Bulge Associates, formerly known as Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Shehab said they changed the name because most of the members now are sons and grandsons of the veterans.
Shehab ended by saying the people who wear the uniform now are a fine bunch.
"You should thank them for their service," said Shehab.
"This was an education for me; thank you again, sir, for your remarks and the historical remembrance," Carderock Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Vandroff said to Shehab in closing the program. "I encourage everyone this Veterans Day to do something to remember those people who have served in uniform, whether it is something formal, or even if it's something informal like picking out that great historical movie to watch."
The observance program included a short video about the Battle of the Bulge. Carderock Division employees attending the ceremony who are veterans were also recognized and were asked to stand when their service's song was played. A light lunch was provided by the Women's Employee Resource Group.
Veterans Day is Nov. 11 each year. The official holiday is based on the proclamation of the first Armistice Day in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson, exactly one year after the end of World War I.