When it came to supporting the Allied war effort during World War II, few families pitched in more than the McGuire family of Wisner, Nebraska.
Five sons of Richard and Mary McGuire served in the Army, and a sixth worked in a military manufacturing plant. Four other sons helped their parents on the farm, and another was a doctor — all jobs considered war work at the time. And of three daughters, two were nurses and a third worked at a defense plant.
Last month, 11 descendants of the McGuire clan assembled in Belgium to honor 1st Lt. Clem McGuire, one of the brothers, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge exactly 75 years earlier.
McGuire’s name was added to the 35th Infantry Division Memorial at Lutremange, near the famous town of Bastogne, in a ceremony Jan. 12. McGuire served in the 1st Battalion, 134th Infantry Regiment, a Nebraska National Guard unit that was part of the 35th and played a key role in the battle.
“It was an opportunity I wouldn’t have wanted to pass up,” said Ginny McGuire of Lincoln, Clem’s niece and one of three Nebraska relatives to attend. “I felt like the story of Uncle Clem hadn’t been told. He deserved more credit for the bravery he showed during World War II.”
Clem McGuire was born in 1912, the third-oldest of 16 McGuire children. Before the war, he worked as a lineman for a local telephone company in Wisner. He enlisted in the National Guard in February 1941 and was called up soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was trained in radio and telephone communications, building on his civilian skills.
The unit saw serious action beginning in July 1944, when the 134th Regiment landed at Normandy a month after D-Day. That same month, the 134th played a central role in the savage battle to take the strategic crossroads of Saint-Lô, France.
McGuire, then a staff sergeant, earned his first Bronze Star. He was one of only 21 soldiers in his unit of 120 who was not killed or wounded.
McGuire earned his second Bronze Star for actions in France a few days before the Battle of the Bulge, a last-ditch German offensive in December 1944 and January 1945. He was recognized for crossing a river, on a broken footbridge, to bring a telephone line to two companies of soldiers surrounded and trapped inside a cluster of houses on the other side.
McGuire offered a bit of insight into the battle in a letter home dated Feb. 24, 1945.
“We attacked into the southern edge of the salient parallel to the main highway to Bastogne,” McGuire said in his letter. “Our Battalion were the first Infantry to reach elements of the American troops encircled in that sector. During our stay there, we had to fight extreme cold weather and in a foot or two of snow.”
McGuire fought on to the end of the war, returned to his job at the telephone company and married Cecilia Schwaab of Omaha. They raised eight children.
Like many World War II veterans, he didn’t talk much about the war. He died in 1970, at age 57, without giving up many secrets.
“I wish I knew a little more about my uncle,” said Ginny McGuire, who was a senior in high school when he died.
Coincidentally, a cousin of Ginny’s, Patrick Shannon, lives in Belgium with his family. He was hired to develop an educational program about the Battle of the Bulge for Belgian schoolchildren.
Shannon put together a website in four languages telling the personal stories of U.S. soldiers, Belgian civilians, a German soldier — and Buddy the Liberty Dog, an Army mascot — who were all involved in the pivotal battle.
One of the soldiers was Lt. Clem McGuire.
Through this work, Shannon got in touch with Roger and Odile Baland, who maintain the 35th Infantry Division Memorial. Together they planned a 75th anniversary ceremony that included the laying of flowers at the memorial and the addition of a plaque bearing McGuire’s name.
The McGuire relatives visited a memorial and a museum, and toured the area in restored Jeeps. They attended Catholic Mass in a church where the pews still had bullet holes from the battle 75 years ago.
Ginny McGuire said more than 100 Belgians attended the ceremony. Some of them told their own stories at a reception afterward.
One woman, who was 6 at the time, described leaving her own home to stay in a relative’s potato cellar during the battle, and leaving behind a treasured doll. A man showed them newspaper clippings about his uncle, who had emigrated to the United States before the war, joined the Army and then helped to liberate his hometown.
“It was amazing to see how important the Battle of the Bulge is in the area, even now,” McGuire said. “You could sense the importance of the battle, and the appreciation they still feel.”