To prepare for Armed Forces Day, WVII spoke to one 94-year-old Army veteran in Bangor and collected his story.
William "Bill" Forrest volunteered to join the Army in 1943 and was trained to run the motor pool but he also jumped out of airplanes as part of the 82nd Airborne Division. His unit traveled to France by boat and after a little parachuting training.
“It was go, go. We went through France and inked the bulge,” said Forrest, while seating inside the library of the Solstice Senior Living Center, where he lives. “That was a miserable place. It was cold.”
Forrest remembers sleeping on the cold, hard snow-covered ground and worrying about supplies as Adolf Hitler's German troops tried to break through the Western Front.
“When they came in I guess they thought they would go straight through to France because they had more troops than we did,” Forrest recalled of the battle that started on Dec. 16, 1944, and ended on Jan. 25, 1945.
“When we first stepped in, we thought we lost everything but we finally got back up," he said. "We got back up and we stopped them right there.”
It's estimated that nearly 20,000 U.S. troops lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge, which is credited with the fall of the German army and eventually the end of the war.
Gen. James Gavin led the Airborne Division through France and into Germany.
“He lost a lot of men to Hitler,” said the veteran, who still grieves for his fallen brothers-in-arms.
Forrest returned to Maine after the war and married Dottie Tweedie and spent the rest of his life using his motor pool skills working as a mechanic for various local businesses.
Like many of the Greatest Generation, he never spoke about his wartime experiences. However, he opened up to his son-in-law the first time they met a few years ago.
“Cheryl told me when we got home that that was probably the first time she had ever heard him speak anything about the war,” said Dick Talbot, who married to Bill Forrest's daughter Cheryl.
That is around the same time Forrest started participating in the Student Veterans Interview Program at Cole Land Transportation Museum, where middle and high school students interview vets about their experiences.
Forrest said he can't explain why he never told his stories before.
“No reason really,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “It's in the history books and it was in all the papers.”
Over the years, Forrest did consider returning to Europe.
“I would have liked to but it's a hard trip to make,” the veteran said. “I had a family to raise, expenses so I stayed home where I belonged.”