Battle of Bulge Veteran shares story behind ‘The Chow Line’ in New Lobby Exhibit at Wright Museum

When Wright Museum opens May 1, its new lobby exhibit will feature, “The Chow Line,” a US Signal Corps photograph with special significance and a story.

“‘The Chow Line’ photo was originally given to the museum by Cyma Rubin, who curated our previous American Soldier exhibit,” said museum Executive Director Mike Culver. “It serves as the backdrop for our new lobby exhibit, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of The Bulge.”

The exhibit will be enhanced, however, by a photocopy of the image with the name of the men written on it, which was submitted by Battle of the Bulge veteran John E. McAuliffe of Worcester, Massachusetts. Having served with the 87th during the Battle of the Bulge and able to recall many of the men in the photo, McAuliffe said he obtained it years ago when he was overseas. 

“I gave a copy to the museum and told them I know all about it because I was in that division,” he said.

Taken on January 13, 1945 in St. Hurbert, Belgium, the photograph shows men from Company I, 4th Platoon, Machine Gun section, of the 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division lined up in the snow waiting for food.

“The third or fourth one down the line in the photo died soon after the war, but his son still comes to our reunions,” he said. “I look at this photo and think of the memories and friendships we had over there. You never forget those days. Those days were not easy.” “When the battle broke out, he said their division was faced with “very fierce action.”

“Our division was diverted to that area where the picture was taken some 100 miles from where we were,” he explained. “That was an awful tough ride with 100 miles in open trucks with snow coming down and sleet. We were really under the weather, you might say.”

McAuliffe recalled other memories from the time of the Bulge, including help received from Belgium.

“The Belgians helped out in various ways, such as building roadblocks,” he said.

He cited another memory in which a Belgium officer made a gesture of striking a match and pointed to himself. 

“He was telling me that he set a fire to the tanks of gasoline so the Germans couldn’t get them,” he said. “That man saved us. If the Germans did get the gasoline, we don’t know how far in Belgium they would have come.”

In thinking back, McAuliffe said he hopes the battle is forever remembered. He expressed thanks that Wright Museum has chosen to honor it for the new lobby exhibit in 2019. “I think it is wonderful,” he said. “The Battle of The Bulge was one of the hardest battles of the war and had the most casualties of one operation. In the matter of three weeks or so, there were 20,000 boys killed and 1,800 or more wounded. It is important we don’t forget that.”

Culver agrees and said he believes the new lobby exhibit, including the story behind it, will have an impact on visitors this year.

“The two images of ‘The Chow Line’ next to one another work wonderfully together,” he said. “The images and the exhibit tell an important story.”

The Battle of the Bulge lobby exhibit and the museum will open for the season on May 1.

The region’s leading resource for educators and learners of all ages on World War II, the Wright Museum features more than 14,000 items in its collection that are representative of both the homefront and battlefield.