Andrew Lorence: 91-year-old World War II Veteran and Amputee Looks Forward to Each Day
July 2006 Issue
The historic battle more than 60 years ago is remembered as the bloodiest, largest land battle the US Army has fought to date, leaving more than 80,000 US soldiers dead, missing, or wounded. The Battle of the Bulge, named for the small, borderline "bulge" the Germans had hoped to achieve, began on December 16, 1944, as an attempt by German Commander Gerd von Rundstedt to extend the German border into Belgium. Fought in the thick forests of the eastern Belgium hills of Ardennes, the allied US and UK forces defeated the German army on January 25, 1945. Destroying the reserve equipment and killing more than 84,000 German soldiers, Bulge became known as the battle that precipitated the end of World War II. Andrew Lorence, recalls the bitterly cold, sub-zero temperatures and snowy conditions of the Ardennes mountains with youthful detail. Now 91 years old, he clearly describes the tank explosion on January 13, 1945, that changed his life forever.
"The day I got hurt," he begins his story, "I was a tank-driver, and at 10 PM I got hit. I was trapped in the tank, but managed to get out by some miracle."
It wasn't until he jumped out that he realized his efforts to open the tank hatch had been hindered by a broken hand and that he was missing both his feet.
"I would have died had it not been for the snow. I was looking for my boys, when I saw someone come flying out. I laid in the snow and pretended to be dead so the Germans would leave me," he remembers. "The tank was burning so bad it was like a torch light, so I crawled into a space in a brick wall to hide and made a pillow out of a piece of timber."
He hid in that space in a roofless, abandoned church building frozen from the waist down and waiting for help. He was found by another German, and Lorence tried to "play dead" a second time. The man left, then came back with an English-speaking comrade who asked if he could help.
"I told him to give me a cigarette out of my pocket and light it." Lorence says, recalling his desperate situation. "They put me on a mattress that they found and loaded me onto a train filled with wounded [soldiers]."
The seven-day journey ended at a French hospital where both of Lorence's legs were amputated below the knee. Shortly thereafter he was fitted with prosthetic legs. "I was lucky I got a good pair to begin with and was able to walk, because they told me I would never be able to walk," he says.
Enjoying Life after the War
Since the war, he has lived on his family's farm, bought back at a court sale after his family lost it. He has farmed the 200-acre plot in Newburg, Maryland, since 1960, growing tobacco, corn, and hay. It was just last fall that he gave up his cattle when it became too difficult to grow their hay, though he still tends to his chickens and garden. "I wear out my [prosthetic] legs farming," he says. "I do some of my own repairs on them and save my nice legs for church and going out." He alternates between the two pairs of legs when his residual limbs become sore.
In 1995, Lorence married his second wife Barbara, who says, "Andy is a very special person. He has always made his life the best he could make it, and he was an inspiration to others hurt in the war." She adds that Lorence learned how to use his prosthetic legs by dancing, saying, "He's an excellent dancer."
They enjoy their life together farming, dining in restaurants, and attending events at their local VFW. Though Lorence never had children of his own, he has made Barbara's six children, 14 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren a part of his life, taking them for tractor rides and teaching them about farming when they visit.
Every summer, they travel across the country to attend his 41st Tank's reunion. There Lorence reminisces with old friends, including one who was with him in the tank when it was hit. "He is more comfortable at home with his legs, bandages, and socks, but he makes the sacrifice to stay [away] overnight to go to his reunion," Barbara says.
Despite constant pain in his residual limbs, Lorence is known as an optimist, thankful for each day he's alive. "I've lived my life better than most," Lorence concludes. "It is wonderful to be alive. There's nothing so big that you can't endure when you take each day as it comes. It's never so bad that it couldn't be a little worse, and you can always look forward to a better day tomorrow."
Sherry Metzger, MS, is a freelance writer with degrees in anatomy and neurobiology. She is based in Westminster, Colorado, and may be reached at email@example.com