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When German planes began bombing southeast Belgium at 5 p.m. on Dec. 29, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, SI special contributor Martin F. Dardis was aboard a half-track near the Belgian village of Bastogne. PFC Dardis, then 21, was a gunner with the 468th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion in the Third Army led by General George S. Patton. For 12 hours, Dardis's crew and another half-track unit fired 37-mm cannons and .50-caliber machine guns at incoming JU 88s and FW-190 fighters. They shot down four enemy planes and survived five bombing attacks while under constant pressure from artillery and small arms fire. During one of the aerial attacks, bombs exploded on both sides of Dardis's half-track, blowing him and a buddy, Frank Standfield, 15 feet into the frozen brush.
"It was the most frightening night of my life," Dardis says. "I always said if I didn't get nailed in Bastogne, it wasn't going to happen."
For their gallantry in action, both half-track crews were promised citations. Six weeks later, after returning from a rest camp in Luxembourg, Dardis learned that the five soldiers from the other half-track had been awarded Silver Stars, but that his unit had for some reason been overlooked. "That bothered me for years," Dardis says.
After his discharge in 1945, Dardis traded one uniform for another, becoming a policeman in Endicott, N.Y., then a New York State trooper. Moving to Florida, he worked his way up the law-enforcement ranks, serving as chief of police in North Bay, Fla., and later as chief investigator for the state attorney's office in Miami, in which capacity he helped crack the Watergate case by tracing the money paid to the Watergate burglars to a bank account held by the Republican Committee. In the Watergate movie All the President's Men, Dardis's role was played by Ned Beattie.
Dardis joined SI's investigative team in 1981 and has worked on a number of major stories, including Don Reese's account in 1982 of widespread cocaine use in the NFL and the magazine's coverage in 1989 of Pete Rose's involvement in gambling.
In recent years Dardis has also applied his investigative skills to correcting the slight to his half-track crew. He dug through reports of the Battle of the Bulge at the National Archives in Suitland, Md., and combed the country to find other crew members.
"I put the case together as if I were presenting it to a grand jury," says Dardis, who sent his findings to the Military Awards Bureau and the Board to Correct Military Injustices. After an 18-month review, the decision was unanimous. Silver Stars were awarded to Dardis, Standfield and Louis Nagy, and posthumously to Hubert Harris and O.C. Sullins. Last Saturday, Dardis and Standfield received their medals in a ceremony at the National Guard Armory in Binghamton, N.Y., and it was with considerable satisfaction that Dardis said afterward, "We rode into Bastogne on a halftrack, but we rode to the National Guard Armory in a limousine."