“War Stories” producer Gregory Johnson takes you inside this Sunday’s episode, “Hell in the Huertgen Forest.”
FOX FAN: While writing and producing the episode, what was the most surprising thing you uncovered?
GREGORY JOHNSON: I was most surprised by how little is written or known about the campaign in the Huertgen Forest. It was a long, costly, enormous event for the American Army, and few people have ever heard about it.
GJ: This is likely because there are many questions that persist to this day about how the American commanders conducted the battle. Moreover, many consider it an American defeat and a German victory. Nevertheless, 120,000 Americans fought there and the individual stories of those men, their platoons and small units, are great stories of heroism and commitment that, as Col. North says in our show, deserve to be told.
FF: The Battle of Huertgen Forest was the longest single battle ever waged by the American Army. What are the reasons this battle lasted almost five months?
GJ: The American Army wanted to fight into Germany and immediately move towards Hitler's factories. Going through the Huertgen Forest was, on a map, the shortest route. But the forest was so thick, and the German defenses dug in so well, that American military power simply couldn't blast its way through. Every American offense in the wooded terrain was met by a fierce German resistance.
FF: You traveled to the Huertgen Forest to film this episode. What was it like? Can you imagine how a U.S. soldier must have felt during the battle in such a thickly wooded area of forest?
GJ: War Stories has produced 71 episodes, and travelling to the Huertgen was one of the most memorable trips to a battlefield for me. The woods are at once beautiful and haunting. You can still see the scars of the war more than 60 years later. There are still trenches and bunkers all over the place. Most importantly, we saw the grave marker of an American soldier whose remains were found only two years ago. It is truely a unique, important and sacred place.
FF: As part of the episode, you brought together a U.S. soldier and a German soldier who both fought in this fierce battle. What was their meeting like? Did it reveal anything about the battle that you didn't learn from all your research?
GJ: It is always fascinating to listen to war veterans share stories, especially when they fought on opposing sides. They remember the actions of their units, which were meant to destroy the enemy. Yet at the same time they speak of the humane moments that occurred during such battle — how the German civilians cared for the American wounded, or how the commanders negotiated a ceasefire to recover the wounded and dead. Sometimes the best of man comes out in the horror of war.