KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during World War II. Today, there are fewer than 10,000 World War II soldiers still alive in the volunteer state.

In mid-December 1944, the German Army, in a last-ditch effort, launched a massive attack on American forces around the Ardennes Forest — World War II’s Battle of the Bulge had begun. Sam Balloff, 99, didn’t wear his Army dress jacket as his unit fought off the Germans 78 years ago during that battle.

Balloff enlisted right after completing his freshman year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. His father owned the popular Balloff Stores on Lafollette. Balloff and his brother would later operate the stores after the war as they branched into Knoxville.

Balloff said it’s been a long time since he put on the jacket he wore from 1943 through the end of World War II in 1945.

Corporal Balloff was assigned to the 309th Field Artillery Battalion in 1944 when the Germans unexpectedly attacked.

“I was in the Artillery driving a truck, we didn’t know what was going on,” Balloff said.

The winter of 1944 was brutal, one of the coldest on record. The battle would last for nearly six weeks.

“December the 16th, I was, you know I was driving a truck. We had a camouflage net that was folded up in the back of the truck. That was our mattress. That night, it started to snow and we were sleeping in this thing. I woke up and we were covered with snow,” Balloff said.

The Battle of the Bulge was won, but many Americans were killed, wounded or taken prisoner by the end of January 1945.

“The six guys who were in my unit, we survived,” Balloff said.

A few years ago, Balloff and his son David visited Remagen, Germany, where In March 1945, Balloff’s division captured the Ludendorff Bridge on the bank of the Rhine River.

Sam Balloff and his son David in Remagen, Germany.

Our salutes to Sam Balloff, a World War II soldier.