Sixty-nine years ago, Albin Irzyk was in a tank, commanding a battalion of 14 tanks and 3,500 troops. His job was to hit the German “underbelly” and rescue a surrounded division.
The 97-year-old will never forget the Battle of the Bulge, calling it “the greatest land battle fought by U.S. forces.”
He was far removed from Belgium and World War II on Sunday as he ate lunch at the Embassy Suites hotel, talking to fellow veterans and their families.
There was no shortage of stories at the luncheon, as about 120 veterans and their families gathered to chat and listen to speakers at the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Florida Southeast chapter luncheon, organized by George Fisher, the founder of the group.
Soon a monument at Veterans Park in Boynton Beach will pay tribute to those who fought in the battle, which took place from Dec. 6, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, in cold, hilly forests of the Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
In all, 19,000 American troops died. Many consider it the U.S. Army’s greatest land battle, and it helped to hasten Germany’s defeat.
Fisher said Sunday the monument will be unveiled by the end of the year, just in time for the 70th anniversary of the battle. Tom Kaiser, chairman of Boynton Beach Veterans Council, said his organization will cover half the cost of erecting the monument.
Irzyk said the main challenges of commanding resulted from the “imponderables of the battlefield.”
When advancing on the German forces, Irzyk split his battalion in three, with the one on the left going through a forest. As they were approaching the German line, the left section got stuck in a marsh that he hadn’t noticed on the map.
“It was a call by nature,” he said.
His troops and tanks continued without them, and the rest, he said, is history.
Herald Berkman was deployed in Belgium mere weeks after training and saw his first death at a minefield.
A platoon sergeant stepped on a mine that blew off his legs, then fell on another land mine, which blew off his head, he said.
“It’s kind of a shock,” Berkman said, “but then you say to yourself, ‘Thank God it wasn’t me.’”