He marched toward the smoke, his fresh green khakis standing out brightly against the snow-covered ground.
He was one of a half-dozen soldiers dropped off next to a small bridge and ordered to walk toward a French village named Holtzwihr near the German border. There, they would meet up with Company B of the 15th Infantry Regiment, Third Division.
What was left of it, anyway.
It had been one of the harshest winters in decades in western Europe, and heavy snow blanketed the forest and the narrow road. As he walked, he could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
He was going to war, and he wasn't even 21 yet.
The smoke had been a telltale sign of battle, but he still wasn't prepared for what he saw as he neared the edge of the forest north of Holtzwihr. Shattered tanks were ablaze. Half-tracks had been blown apart. Anti-tank guns lay in pieces.
Yet it was the bodies that he would never forget: Germans in white winter camouflage, Americans in green fatigues that offered scant protection from the bitter cold.
Most of the fallen soldiers were dead. But the moans and agonized cries of the wounded sliced through the crisp January air and sent a shudder down his spine.
He kept walking. He had orders, after all.
But as he passed through the carnage, a thought crept unbidden into his mind: “I’ll never make it home.”
The history books would call this the Battle of Holtzwihr, during which Audie Murphy singlehandedly blunted a German assault -an act of bravery that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Murphy still holds the distinction as the most decorated soldier in U.S. military history.
But for the Finger family, January 26, 1945, has another distinction: it was Dad's first day of combat.
It would not be his last.
In many ways, the war never ended for Marvin S. Finger. The sacrifices he made for this country continued to exact a toll on him until the day he died, more than 60 years later.
The only people who really know the price so many of our veterans paid to protect our nation are those that served alongside them...and the loved ones they came home to --- if they came home at all.
It's all the more reason we owe them our gratitude on this Veterans Day.