Each December, memories of the frozen battlefields of Bastonge, Belgium are rekindled for Sugarmill Woods resident Juell "Jack" Ness who participated in the epic Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.
The seventh of eleven children of Norwegian immigrants, Ness was born and raised in Summit, South Dakota graduating from Summit High School in 1940 as class valedictorian. Upon completing Nettleton Commercial College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, he was employed as a bookkeeper at the Northwest Security National Bank in Sioux Falls and then as a teller for the First National Bank of Nevada in Las Vegas.
Ness' banking career was placed on hold in April 1943 when he requested his draft board to accelerate his induction into the U.S. Army. After completing basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington, Ness was selected for the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), first attending the University of Idaho and then the University of Oregon. His studies were halted in March 1944 when the ASTP was discontinued to meet the manpower demands for the coming invasion of Hitler's Europe.
Assigned to the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion, 11th Armored Division, Ness underwent advanced infantry training at Camp Cooke, California. In September 1944, Ness' division departed from New York City for Southhampton, England where it continued its training until deploying to Cherbourg, France in early December 1944.
Shortly thereafter, Hitler launched a surprised counteroffensive under the cover of historically bad weather conditions in a desperate attempt to divide the Allied forces. With Allied forces forced to retreat, a bulge in their lines resulted in the Germans surrounding the 101st Airborne Division at the Belgium town of Bastogne. Ness's division made a 350 mile, three day mounted dash across France to join General Patton's Third Army as part of the breakthrough force that relieved beleaguered American troops at Bastogne on Christmas Day.
As a scout assigned to Company C, 55th Armored Infantry Battalion's, Ness earned his Purple Heart on New Year's Eve, 1944, six miles west of Bastogne during a day of bitter fighting against a German force defending a small village.
While moving dismounted through heavily forested terrain, Ness escaped injury when enemy landmines killed one comrade and wounded several others. Ness continued to escape injury during his battalion's rout of the German defenders despite his company suffering 19 killed and 27 wounded. However, Ness' good fortunate ended when the Germans launched a determined counterattack with tanks and infantry.
With withering machinegun fire from an enemy Tiger tank streaming at him, Ness literally felt the heat of the tracer rounds on his face. One round miraculously passed through the top of his field jacket only to seriously wound a fellow scout behind him. However, another round finally found its mark as it tore into Ness' lower right leg. A long medical journey followed for Ness that took him from his battalion's aid station to a five month hospital stay in England to more months of rehabilitation at Vancouver Barracks, Washington and finally Ft. Custer, Michigan.
The proud recipient of the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman Badge, Ness was discharged from the Army on November 29, 1945, returning to Sioux Falls where he enrolled in Augustana College. In September 1947, he transferred to George Washington University where he completed his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Government.
After a brief stint with the Army Map Service in Washington, D.C., he joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in December 1950 as a Special Agent. Following a year in the FBI's Mobile, Alabama office, he was transferred to the New York City office where he remained until his retirement in December 1975. While with the New York City office, Ness served in its Counter Intelligence Division. As the Supervisor of the Soviet Espionage Squad, Ness supervised many of the FBI's major Soviet espionage cases, earning many incentive and merit awards along with several commendation letters from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
In his retirement, Ness has enjoyed refinishing furniture, golfing and traveling. He and his wife of 53 years, Joan, have traveled to the four corners of the United States, parts of Canada and Europe with visits to Bastogne and surrounding battle sites, as well as a three day trip to the Normandy beaches. They also enjoy visiting their son, daughter and granddaughter whenever possible.
Since relocating from Long Island, New York to Sugarmill Woods in August 1990, Ness has been active with his church, Nature Coast Chapter of Ex-FBI Agents, West Citrus Elks, Sugarmill Woods Country Club and Sugarmill Woods Crime Watch. He is a Life Member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) and Disabled American Veterans.