(Photo: Brig. Gen. McAuliffe and Lt. Col. Kinnard via the US Department of War)
During the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, German forces surrounded and cut off the US Army's 101st Airborne Division under the command of Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe. The Americans were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. The Germans appeared to be in a position to annihilate them.
General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz sent a message under a flag of truce, urging McAuliffe to surrender. McAuliffe's legendary reply was simple: "Nuts!"
And with that, the great orator and general Anthony McAuliffe became a symbol of American grit. Now you can read the full story of this incident as related by Kenneth J. McAuliffe, Jr., General McAuliffe's nephew.
He explains that General McAuliffe was initially confused by the message. He thought that the Germans wanted to surrender to him, not the other way around:
The Division Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard recalled that McAulliffe initially asked, "They want to surrender?" Moore told him, "No sir, they want us to surrender." McAulliffe arose and erupted in anger, which shocked those looking on. He took the paper, looked at it, said "Us surrender, aw nuts!" and dropped it on the floor. Maj. Jones was dismissed. McAulliffe then left the Headquarters to go congratulate a unit on the Western perimeter that had successfully taken out a German road block earlier that morning.
Once that was cleared up, Gen. McAuliffe composed his full response:
December 22, 1944
To the German Commander,
N U T S !
The American Commander
Col. Bud Harper, one of McAuliffe's regimental commanders, then escorted the German emissaries back to their lines:
The two blindfolded German officers were then driven, again by a roundabout route, back to their entry point at the Kessler farm. At the farm, the group was rejoined by PFC Premetz. The blindfolds were removed and the Germans opened and looked at the reply. They asked, "What does this mean?" They obviously didn't understand the American slang. Harper and Premetz discussed how to explain it. Harper suggested, "Tell them to take a flying s**t!" Premetz thought about it, then straightened up, faced the Germans and said, "Du kannst zum Teufel gehen." He told Harper it meant "You can go to Hell." Then Harper said, "If you continue to attack, we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city." Henke replied, "We will kill many Americans. This is war." Harper then said, "On your way Bud, and good luck to you." After Henke translated, the major acknowledged. They saluted and the Germans started to walk away. Harper angrily called out to them, "If you don't know what I am talking about, simply go back to your commanding officer and tell him to just plain, 'Go to Hell'." After Henke translated, the major got angry and stormed off.
-via Jonah Goldberg