Turning hundreds of individual battle stories into one narrative is like putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle. Good thing history buff Don Cygan is a patient man.
Over the years, Cygan had read differing accounts of the Battle for Bastogne, a pivotal engagement on Christmas Day 1944 in which paratroopers of the 101st Airborne, along with other units, stubbornly held out against the German onslaught despite a dangerous lack of supplies and poor weather conditions.
Cygan, an eighth-grade history teacher at Sagewood Middle School, can’t point to the exact reason why he gravitated toward the story, spending five years conducting interviews and pulling military records from American and German databases. He says that the battle has surprisingly received little attention from historians, and he was compelled to reconcile the contradictory versions of the events.
“In battle, there’s always varying accounts because of what they call the ‘foxhole-eye view,’” Cygan said. “You’re only aware of what’s going on within a hundred-yard radius, but when you overlap the stories with the reports, you get a bigger picture.”
The 49-year-old first-time author was enthused when he was able to get in contact with those who fought, including American veterans in their late 80s and early 90s. He even interviewed a German soldier named Ludwig Lindemann, who was forthcoming about his involvement in WWII and candid about his former belief in Hitler’s plans.
The missing pieces of the story were adeptly filled in by Leo Barron, a fellow historian who served in Iraq and had been doing his own research on the Battle for Bastogne. The co-authors even traveled to the site in Belgium and spoke to the ancestors of those who lived in the area at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, of which the Battle for Bastogne was a turning point.
The complementary partnership resulted in a “remarkable story” with heroics that previously had not been documented. Cygan, a retired Army and National Guard Reserve serviceman, said many veterans told him they had never shared their full story, not even with their wives.
“There are still huge stories coming out of World War II, things that people never got full information about because so much was going on,” he said. “It’s hard to realize the impact.”
Cygan and Barron were not only intent on piecing together an accurate military account, but also wanted to capture the human element of the story, particularly because the battle occurred on Christmas Day.
After retaining an agent, the 320-page book was quickly snapped up by the New American Library, a subsidiary imprint of Penguin Publishing. The authors have been encouraged by “No Silent Night’s” popularity since being released in November: nearly 5,000 physical copies had been sold as of Jan. 18.
Cygan, a father of two boys who has lived in Parker for almost 20 years, said he is glad to play a role in making sure that accurate accounts are on record and discrepancies are cleared up.
“It’s important to me,” he said. “The fundamental role of a historian is to make sure the stories get told.”
Cygan is scheduled to appear during a book signing and discussion about “No Silent Night: The Christmas Battle for Bastogne” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch. The book is also available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other retailers, and can be purchased as an e-book.