Seventy-five years ago, Germany undertook its greatest World War II offensive against the Western Front. Since the Normandy landing in June, the allies had pushed the German Army back to the French-German border. In mid-December, Adolph Hitler decided to counterattack along the Luxembourg border, hoping to split the British and American armies into two separate forces.
Pictured above from left to right, Edward Silvia, Victor Richardson, Francis X. Zweir and Joseph Chesebro.
The winter was bitterly cold. The allied armies were fatigued from six months of almost constant fighting. The allies’ defensive line in the Ardennes Forest along the German/Luxembourg border was thin, since an attack in this area was not expected.
The defensive units fought a delaying action, upsetting the German timetable. But the German armies ultimately broke through, forming a bulge in the front line for which the battle is named.
Four Jamestown men participated in the brutal six-week battle that finally repulsed the German offensive.
Ed Silvia served with Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division. He was a Field Wireman, which meant he established communication among dispersed army units by laying field telephone wire between unit positions, keeping the wire in good repair, and rolling it up again when the units moved.
The delaying action of the units on the ground had given General Eisenhower time to reinforce Bastogne, a vital crossroads in southeastern Belgium. Combat Command B was among the first wave of reinforcements, arriving in Bastogne on December 18. By December 21 after heavy fighting, the town was encircled as the Germans continued their advance for another 35 miles. The next day German emissaries asked for the American surrender. Their commander, Brig. Gen. McAuliffe, answered tersely, “Nuts!” and four days later the Third U.S. Army, under the command of General Patton, broke the siege. Silvia’s unit continued battling the withdrawing German army until relieved on January 18.
Silvia was wounded by shell fragments during the battle.
After the war, Silvia returned to Jamestown. He and his wife Irene owned and operated the Bay View Hotel until 1965. He later worked for the Jamestown Ferry Division and the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, retiring in 1986. He died in 2019.
Soon after the siege of Bastogne was lifted on December 26, another Jamestowner entered the city.
In December 1944, Victor Richardson was a 19-year-old medic with Company A of the 92nd Medical Gas Treatment Battalion. He was sent to Bastogne with Patton’s Third Army and wrote about his entry into the city in The Bulge Bugle in 2004.
“The corridor [into the city] was only as wide as the infantrymen on each side of the road had under the control of their rifles. The first thing upon entering the forest, which was between us and the city, was to see this GI lying on top of the telephone wires, with no head, no arms, no legs – right where he landed after his vehicle struck a land mine.”
The medics set up an operating room in a barn. They treated over 300 patients the first day, since medical personnel and supplies had been lost early in the siege. They faced trials at all levels from getting clean water to triaging incoming patients.
After the war, Richardson worked as an engineer on the Jamestown ferry, and for some years was the photographer for the Jamestown Press.
Francis X. Zweir
Like Silva and Richardson, Francis Zweir was born and raised in Jamestown. He entered Rhode Island State College with the class of 1943, but left to join the 358th Infantry, U.S. Army, as a rifleman in the middle of his senior year.
His regiment was part of the Normandy invasion, going ashore at “Utah” beach on June 8, 1944. For the next six months, the 358th fought its way through France to the German border.
On January 8, the 358th Infantry Regiment was ordered into Luxembourg, to positions about five miles east of Bastogne, to attack the southern flank of the withdrawing German army. Private Francis Zweir was killed in action on January 15, one of 46 soldiers in his battalion to die that day.
He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. In 1946, Jamestown’s Arnold-Zweir Post 22 of the American Legion was named in his memory.
Joseph Chesbro and Francis Zweir were good friends. They joined the Army together on December 28, 1942, trained in Texas with the 358th Infantry Regiment together, and fought across France and into Luxembourg together. They were together when Zweir was killed.
Chesbro survived and returned to Jamestown. He worked at Cushman’s Bakery, where he earned the nickname Joe Cush, and later at Quonset. He died in 2009.