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1944: Frontline Christmas for 2 Buds

By Christmas of 1945, World War II was over, and both Buds, recently discharged from the Army, were home with their families in Marseilles.

But a year earlier, with their unit, the 745th Tank Battalion, involved in the Battle of the Bulge, their fate was uncertain.

“Well, I never thought I’d get home from the war,” said Allan “Bud” Spencer. “I just thought I would get it sooner or later. But I never let my wife know that or my parents.”

And Christmas, said George “Bud” Hougas, “was just another day as far as I was concerned. I know I didn’t do any Christmas shopping.

“I guess I remember Thanksgiving more than I remember Christmas,” he said. “In the town where we were the streets were full of mud. I sat down along a sidewalk and had my dinner with a dead German just about 20 feet away.”

By that time the proximity of dead bodies had no affect on his appetite.

Spencer and Hougas were among five men from Marseilles who volunteered for the draft and then trained and served in the same unit as it fought its way across Europe.

Three — Mario Vangelisti, Thomas Lipsey and Clement Hicks — have since died.

Last Friday, Spencer and Hougas shared their memories — or lack of them — with The Times.

They arrived in France at Omaha Beach on June 17, 1944 and battled their way east, seeing significant action.

On Dec. 13, after particularly grueling combat at the Hürtgen Forest, the 745th was sent to Belgium to rest and prepare for further duty.

Three days later, the Germans attacked in a surprise offensive now best known as The Battle of the Bulge.

Where the 745th had been, the fresh American units that replaced them were decimated by the enemy, Spencer recalled, and the 745th was put back in action.

Although the main battalion helped block the German advance, a detachment that included Spencer and Hougas was assigned to Task Force Davisson, and sent to guard a Belgium dam.

For Spencer, Christmas was a memorable holiday. On Dec. 7 he had been given a battlefield commission to second lieutenant and Christmas Eve was his golden birthday — the day he turned 24.

His platoon was quartered in a civilian home. Because Spencer was an officer he slept upstairs in a bed, while the enlisted men slept downstairs on the floor.

Spencer recalled that on Christmas Day itself, the Army served up turkey dinners, and he was invited to join a neighboring unit as well.

“I had turkey twice on Christmas, so my battle of the bulge was this,” he said as he slapped his stomach. “But we got busy pretty soon after that.”

But Spencer has another reminder as well.

It was one of the coldest winters in Europe, and proper gear did not always catch up to the troops.

“My first boots were a pair of German boots,” said Hougas. “They were high boots and I cut them down so I could wade through the snow. They were big enough that I could leave my shoes on in them.”

Spencer, however, suffered frostbite on his feet and legs, which has ever since been a painful winter reminder of his wartime service.

Both Spencer and Hougas were awarded the Silver Star for bravery, and in recent years, both have been made knights of the Legion of Honor by France for their service in helping free that country.

— Considerable assistance in tracking the service of the 745th Tank Battalion and arranging for the joint interview with Spencer and Hougas was provided by Henry Roe of the Marseilles American Legion. 

  • Go to to view a video interview with Hougas and Spencer.

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