Alexandrian WWII Veteran Remembers The Battle of the Bulge

Alexandrian WWII Veteran Remembers The Battle of the Bulge

‘We Were Annihilated’

Dr. Robert Wineland, right, talks with Tom Roberts about his experience during the Battle of the Bulge at a recent Alexandria Rotary Club meeting.

Dr. Robert Wineland, right, talks with Tom Roberts about his experience during the Battle of the Bulge at a recent Alexandria Rotary Club meeting. Photo by Jeanne Theismann.

It was one of the best kept secrets of World War II. When 20-year-old U.S. Army Medic Robert Wineland arrived in the village of Laudersfeld, the wooded countryside of far eastern Belgium was relatively peaceful, a quiet buffer zone disrupted only by occasional artillery fire and brief skirmishes between opposing infantry patrols. But on Dec. 16, 1944, the sleepy Ardennes front was about to wake up. The Battle of the Bulge had begun.


Army Medic Robert Wineland, in Belgium in late 1944, was part of the 106th Division during the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was having a conversation with my captain and two young cooks outside the farmhouse we were staying in when I realized I had forgotten my wool cap,” recalled Wineland. “I darted inside to retrieve it and noticed a window was ajar. Just as I reached up to close it, a loud explosion shattered the glass and blew me backwards. I thought to myself, ‘Good going, Bob. Here it is, the first day of action and you got shot.’”

When he realized he was not injured, Wineland made his way back outside. As he looked for his captain, he saw something on an adjacent hilltop that stopped him dead in his tracks.

“I knew what it was immediately,” Wineland said. “A German King Tiger tank, one of the biggest tanks ever built and nearly twice the size of our Sherman tanks. It had fired an 88mm shell, blowing off the heads of those two young cooks.”

Despite the danger, Wineland crawled on the ground to tag the two casualties then, still on his belly, made his way to a nearby barn to hunker down. Under cover of darkness that night, he made his way through the Belgian countryside, at one point getting lost in the Ardennes Forest for several days. Reunited with his comrades in Vielsalm just before Christmas, he remained on the front lines as the battle continued throughout January 1945.

“Germany’s surprise attack had thrown the Allies into disarray,” the Alexandria resident recalled as the 70th anniversary of the battle’s end neared on Jan. 28. “In a single brief engagement, my 106th Division suffered more losses in casualties and captured than any other American division in World War II. We were annihilated.”

The Battle of the Bulge — so nicknamed because of the “bulge” in the map where German forces broke through the Allied line — was the last major offensive on the Western Front during WWII. But despite the success of the initial attack, timely reinforcements and improving weather that allowed Allied air forces to take to the skies reversed the fate of the Germans.

“It was the largest battle fought by American forces during World War II,” Wineland said. With 840,000 troops committed, it was also among the bloodiest with more than 186,000 casualties.

Discharged in December 1945, Wineland returned home to Anacostia to continue his pre-med studies at George Washington University. He went on to complete his medical degree there in 1951, the same year he married Stuart de Murguiondo. Following residencies at the Children’s Hospital in Washington and University of Colorado Hospital in Denver, the two settled in Alexandria in 1955.


Robert and Stuart Wineland in the Hollins Hills home they have lived in since 1955.

“When I first started my practice in 1955, there were no hospitals in Alexandria or Fairfax County other than Alexandria Hospital,” said Wineland, who was the sole pediatrician between Alexandria and Richmond. “So when the Alexandria Hospital announced its move from Old Town to the far West End of the city in 1959, a small group of doctors decided to search for a site for a new, more local hospital.”

Meeting in the living room of Wineland’s Hollin Hills home, the “Doctors Group,” as they called themselves, began seeking support for their idea. The Mount Vernon-Lee Citizens Association became strong supporters of the drive for a new hospital and after much debate, the Fairfax County government approved the creation of a new hospital to be built in the Mount Vernon district.

“That was also the start of many meetings and long hours when we tried to plan a hospital and hold our families and practices together,” said Wineland, by now a father of four.

Wineland’s efforts came to fruition on Oct. 26, 1976, when Mount Vernon Hospital opened its doors. The next day he was named the first president of the medical staff. Throughout this time, Wineland also made medical mission trips to treat children in Algiers and Hondurus.


Dr. Robert Wineland treated thousands of children during mission trips to Algiers and Honduras.

The couple’s love of exotic travel took the family all over the world, including a trip to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Although I am still active, some things are different than they used to be,” said Wineland, who will turn 91 in July. “But Stuart and I have had full lives and aim to enjoy watching the progress of our family as long as the Lord allows.”

Still known to many as “Dr. Bob,” Wineland remains an active member of the Alexandria Rotary Club and shared his WWII recollections with club members Tom Roberts and Drew Carroll, whose fathers also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was very lucky to get out,” Wineland said. “As I look back, it was a profound learning experience. I saw the collapse of an empire and people reacting under every imaginable situation. The war left me all the more convinced that I wanted to go into medicine and help people.”