The 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in December has twins Albert and Charles Davis thinking back — and looking ahead too.
The 89-year-old brothers are the last surviving set of six pairs of twins to serve in the Army’s 17th Airborne Division in one of the most critical battles of the 20th century.
“I don’t remember that we worried about one another,” said Albert Davis, a retired teacher who has lived in Riverdale, the Bronx, for more than 50 years. “We were so naive and so young.“
“It’s incredible to think back on it now,” said Charles Davis, a retired advertising executive from Centerville, Ohio, who spent a week in September visiting his brother in the Bronx. “We’re twins, but we have very different dispositions. I’m more laid back and he’s more of a take-charge guy.”
The fraternal twins were raised in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, where their father, a World War I veteran, worked for AT&T.
In the spring of 1943, the brothers received their draft notices and, thanks to a phone call from their father to a state senator, were placed in the same division.
“Our training was interrupted by the fact that we had to go into combat before we were ready,” Albert Davis recalled. “But they needed the troops because the Germans were going towards Antwerp.”
On a frigid Christmas Eve 1944, the brothers, along with 9,000 other young soldiers of the 17th Airborne Division, were ordered into combat in response to a German offensive in the Ardennes region of Belgium and France. The last-ditch effort by the German forces would forever be remembered as the Battle of the Bulge, a reference to the way Allied forces bunched up on wartime news maps.
“We weren’t really equipped for the cold,” Charles Davis said. “No wool, nothing. A lot of soldiers got frozen feet from that first push.”
The Davis brothers served together in a signal company, part of a specially trained team responsible for establishing communications between headquarters and regiments in the field.
“When we went into combat, he ended up in the wire section and I was in the message center,” Charles said. “He was stringing wire across the Rhine River when I was going over in a glider.”
Charles flew several missions in the quiet, engine-less gliders that were used throughout the war to transport vehicles, small fighting units and equipment to the front.
On the ground, Albert Davis had the dangerous job of running communications wire along the front lines.
“We wouldn’t see each other for days, but we were too inexperienced to worry about that sort of thing,” Albert said. “You just had to find a way to do what you were told.”
Albert, who was awarded a Bronze Star for saving the life of a fellow soldier shot by German troops, remains modest about the dangers he faced.
“After we came through France, the troops advanced,” Albert Davis recalled. “They were shooting us and we were lucky to get by.”
More than 1 million soldiers fought in the four-week clash, including roughly 500,000 Americans, 600,000 Germans and 55,000 Britons, according to military records and scholars.
The U.S. suffered more than 80,000 casualties in the battle, including 19,000 killed. The 17th Division alone lost more than 1,000 men.
“We lost a lot of people in the Bulge,” Charles Davis said. “It was a rough battle. That was Hitler’s last push. But when you’re that age, you don’t think anything’s going to happen to you.”
As the tide of the war began to turn, the brothers were part of the occupying forces that helped stabilize Berlin and other German cities. Both attained the rank of technical sergeant.
“It’s such an incredible generation, and the Davis twins epitomize the duty and service of that generation,” said David Shortt, the curator of the Veterans Memorial Museum in Germantown, Ohio, which has a section devoted to the Davises. “The world we have today would not be the same without the likes of the Davis brothers.”
After their service, both brothers returned home in 1946 and went on to college under the GI Bill. Charles went into advertising while Albert took a job as a coach and physical education teacher at the prestigious Riverdale Country School.
He taught at the school from 1953 to 1987 and continued on as the institute’s archivist for another 10 years.
The brothers said they will celebrate their 90th birthday on Nov. 17 and the 70th anniversary of their courageous service in December as they have so many other milestones together — with a simple phone call.
“We didn’t get to see each other much in these latter years,” Albert said. “But we’ve always been close, no matter what.”
“Twins are close,” Charles Davis said with a smile. “It was a comfort knowing we were together. You didn’t think a lot about it, but it was there.”