The Story Behind Four Letters (‘Nuts’)


In a quiet corner of the Freedom Train rests a mimeographed copy of one of America’s most famous messages. Its typically American text is composed of one simple word — ‘NUTS’.

That message, as most people remember, was sent by Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe to a German general during the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944. McAuliffe’s forces were surrounded at Bastogne for 10 days, but refused to give up. When warned to surrender, McAuliffe replied “Nuts.”


The man who typed that message and later typed the mimeographed sheet that appears on the Freedom Train is Edward Ihlenfeld, 27, of 1811 W. Hopkins St.

A member of the Milwaukee police force since 1941, Ihlenfeld served four years in the Army. He is now a patrolman on special duty with the detective clerical bureau.

Yesterday, Ihlenfeld revealed a little of the tension and drama which surrounded the writing of the message.


A member of the 101st Airborn Division, Ihlenfeld parachuted into action at Normandy on “D” Day, June 6, 1944. McAuliffe was assistant division commander. Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor was commanding officer.

Following a series of actions in France to unit returned to England. From there they parachuted into Holland and fought their way into France again.

Early in December, 1944, while the division was at a rest camp, word came through that the pressure was on in Belgium.  The 101st Airborn was rushed by a truck to Bastogne to bolster the stricken defenses. Gen. Taylor was in Washington DC at the time.

About December 20, the outnumbered unit was forced to dig in when superior German forces surrounded them. Seven German divisions faced them on the line.

When the Third Army under Gen. Patton requested their position on December 22, Col. H.W.O Kinnard, operations officer, replied:

“We’re in the hole in a doughnut.”

Lt. Col. Paul Danahy, intelligence officer, remarked that he felt sorry for the Krauts because:

“No matter which way we shoot we’re bound to hit them.”

Ihlenfeld holding a mimeographed copy of the famous four-letter message "NUTS" in answer to a German commander's call for surrender.
Ihlenfeld holding a mimeographed copy of the famous four-letter message “NUTS” in answer to a German commander’s call for surrender.


That was the atmosphere which prevailed late in the afternoon of the 22nd when Col. Joseph Harper, commanding the 401st Gilder Infantry Regiment, rushed into headquarters.

Ihlenfeld was typing at the time. Several officers were conferring with the general.

Harper handed the general the terms of surrender which had been delivered under a flag of truce. McAuliffe scanned it and tossed it aside.

“Nuts,”he said.

Danahy suggested the general use the word as his reply. The general agreed and ordered Ihlenfeld to type the message. Harper returned to the line with the message and the fighting continued.

later McAuliffe had Ihlenfeld retype the message with a Christmas message to his men, which read:

“We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present, and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms, are truly making for ourselves a merry Christmas.”

Gen. Patton’s Third Army relieved the defenders shortly before New Year.

For his part in the battle and other engagements, Ihlenfeld returned home with Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster, four battle stars and a bronze arrowhead, the Belgium fourragere, Croix de Guerre and the Dutch Orange Lanyard.

– written by Henry Garvey for a Milwaukee newspaper; July 1946

Rittger Genealogy reports


Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE