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Back to the Bulge: Brooklyn WW II vet to be honored

When the nation of Luxembourg commemorates the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a lifelong Brooklynite will be among the six American honorees, a representative of veterans boroughwide, many of whom left their blood frozen in the snow during that vicious World War II campaign.

Norman Wasserman, 85, will soon be returning to the place where decades ago he would listen for the sound of enemy artillery and watch for the flash of Nazi gunfire, often targeted his way.

The Borough Park born, Brooklyn Heights resident was chosen by lottery by the Virginia-based organization Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, at the request of the government of Luxembourg, which will be flying the men out and putting them up at a hotel in Wiltz, as invited guests.

The accommodations will likely be a far cry from Wasserman’s last stay in the small country, after he was drafted in 1943 and assigned to the 286th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, Battery B. Back then, he recalled, “there was the constant threat of artillery fire, snipers, mines, and strafing planes. This was war.”

Fighting began Dec. 16, 1944 and spanned six weeks, waged on a frozen 80-mile front from southern Belgium through the Ardennes Forest, and down to Ettelbruck in central Luxembourg.Adolf Hitler’s plan was to surprise the Allies with a wintertime attack, smash the American and British alliance, and seize the port city of Antwerp. Casualty estimates from the battle vary widely, but according to the United States Department of Defense, American forces suffered 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing. German casualties are estimated to be 100,000, while the British suffered 1,400 casualties.

“I remember the cold and the snow. It was freezing, and very bloody,” Wasserman said.

When German forces withdrew from the Ardennes, the battle — named because of the westward bulging shape of the battleground on a map — came to a close. Winston Churchill, called it “the greatest American battle of the war,”one that “will be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”

Wasserman said the trip, from Dec. 13-18, will include visits to military museums and cemeteries and important battlegrounds like Bastogne. “We are honored to be going,” he said. Also selected were Lowell H. Anness of Rhode Island — which is larger than all of Luxembourg; George D. Whitten of Maine; Frank Forcinella of upstate New York; Herman Zeitchik of Maryland; and Robert L. Cragg of Pennsylvania. At press time, an email to the Luxembourg embassy was not returned. Luxembourg has been forever grateful to the American armies that liberated them,” Wasserman said, noting that each year, memorial ceremonies are held on Dec. 16.

After the college under the GI bill, Wasserman workedas a writer for a public relations firm and had two children who attended Public School 8 in Brooklyn Heights. He said he was never gung ho about war, but “WWII, perhaps unlike some other wars was one that had to be fought and won.”

With veteran ranks thinned by age, the upcoming anniversary will be even more special, he said. Wasserman said he continues to keep in touch with members of his battalion, including former Brooklynites Edward Marinello, Len Kritzer, and Edwin Clare.

While Marinello, 85,originally from Gravesend and now living in Long Island, lived only blocks from Wasserman, it was wartime that introduced the two. “If I was going instead of Norman, I would be chilled,” he said. “The sense of return would be ghostly, I think. It would be hard for me to fathom how I might react going over the same roads.” For the most part, he noted, the roads are the only relics remaining from the period, as many of the towns were levelled by German artilleryand air fire.

“It thrills me that Norman is going because he represents the 152 men of Battery B, most of whom are dead,” said Marinello, a former journalist and author of several books, including “On the Way: General Patton’s Eyes and Ears on the Enemy.”

“Our battalion was a tremendous bunch of guys,” he continued, noting that the bulk of the men came from New York and New Jersey. “We were fast talking New Yorkers,” he said.

And what made Brooklyn’s GI’s different from all the rest?“We had a lot of moxie,” Marinello said.

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