This Day in History: Melvin Biddle at the Battle of the Bulge
On this day in 1944, American soldiers should have been at home celebrating Christmas and New Year’s. Instead, they were fighting off one last German push during the Battle of the Bulge.
One of these soldiers, Pfc. Melvin Biddle, was a normally soft-spoken man. He later even admitted to being scared during combat. “But I lost a lot of fear because I was out there and couldn’t let the troops down,” he told a journalist in 2008.
He needed that attitude on December 23, as he fought with the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment near Hotton, Belgium. Our soldiers were trying to rescue another company that had been surrounded by German forces.
Biddle was designated lead scout when two other men were injured. “I didn’t know I would be lead scout,” Biddle joked. Naturally, he went anyway.
Indeed, you’d never know that Biddle was soft-spoken—or scared—in the hours that followed. He “aggressively penetrated a densely wooded area,” according to his Medal citation. He advanced within yards of not just one, but at least five enemy positions. He threw hand grenades into machine gun nests, and he took out German snipers with “unerring marksmanship.”
Biddle described one of these encounters.
“There’s underbrush and cold, snowy,” Biddle said. “I came up—this small German outpost with the three guys. . . . I shot the first one and then the second one tried to shoot me and I had to shoot him. The third one ran from me and I shot him in the shoulder and he kept going. And I shot him again in the shoulder and he still kept going. And then all hell broke loose.”
Biddle wasn’t done yet. He scouted enemy positions—alone—for hours that night. He was freezing and his hands were so cold, he later said, “I wasn't sure I would be able to fire my rifle. I determined I was going to put a finger through and pull on the thing if I had to.”
Biddle’s efforts bore fruit. The young private returned with intelligence that allowed Americans to knock out two enemy tanks the next morning. That same day, Christmas Eve, he was dispatched as lead scout on another advance.
“I thought after all that the day before, they wouldn't put me out front again,” Biddle joked. “But they did. And he said you were so lucky yesterday, we're gonna use you again today.”
Biddle took out more of the enemy that day, but another notable incident occurred when he came upon a young German boy tied to a tree. The boy was in uniform, and it appeared that he’d been tied up so he wouldn’t retreat. “And everybody said shoot him, shoot him,” Biddle recounted. “And I says I don't think we need to. And we took him prisoner.”
Would you believe that Biddle was still uninjured after two days of fighting? He wasn’t hit until about a week later, when a piece of shrapnel hit his neck. He discovered that he’d been nominated for the Medal of Honor while he was recovering from that injury.
“I'm not a hero, not at all,” he said in 1999. “When the Army put me out front, they put the responsibility on me, and you think about that responsibility instead of the fear.”
His country begged to differ with him.
“We call them the Greatest Generation for a reason,” the Indiana Governor said when Biddle passed away in 2010, “and in Melvin Biddle we have just lost one of the greatest of the great. Every Hoosier is proud that our state produced such a man.”
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Interview with Melvin Earl Biddle (Veterans History Project; Library of Congress)
Medal of Honor citation (Melvin E. Biddle; WWII)
Medal of Honor oral histories (Melvin Biddle; WWII)
Patrick K. O'Donnell, Beyond Valor: World War II's Ranger and Airborne Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat (2001)
Peter Collier et al., Medal of Honor: Portraits of Honor beyond the Call of Duty (3d ed. 2011)
Rodney Richey, Melvin Biddle: Reluctant hero (Herald Bulletin; Dec. 17, 2010)
T. Rees Shapiro, Melvin E. Biddle, honored for heroism in Battle of the Bulge, dies at 87 (Wash. Post; Dec. 21, 2010)