WW II Veteran, Norval (Dick) Williams, a charter member of Company (A) Southwest Florida Combat Infantrymen’s Association, returned to Europe May 3-11, 2010 to participate in the ceremonies of the Battle of the Bulge, the biggest battle of WW II, which I fought in, under the command of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army, 80th Division, 318thInfantry Regiment, Company I, where I earned the Combat Infantry Badge.
THE BADGE OF GLORY
Of all the medals upon our chest
From the battles and wars we knew
The one admired as the very best
Is the one of Infantry Blue.
It is only a rifle upon a wreath
So why should it mean so much?
It is what it took to earn it
That gives it that magic touch.
To earn this special accolade
You faced the enemy’s fire.
Whether you survived or not
God dialed that one desire.
For those of us who served the cause
And brought this nation glory
It is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge
That really tells the story.
Monday, May 3rd 2010, accompanied by my long-time friend, Ada Heckman, we boarded our plane at Regional Southwest Airport in Fort Myers, Florida for our connecting flight to Philadelphia, PA , where we transferred to our Trans -Atlantic flight to Brussels, Belgium. I took Ada along to help me backfill all those fox holes which I dug all over France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. But I don’t think security would allow us on the plane with two entrenching shovels as they will consider them weapons instead of tools. Oh well, we will have to dig into the dirt with our bare hands I suppose.
Tuesday, May 4th, arriving in Brussels, Belgium around 8:00 AM at the airport, clearing customs and claiming our luggage, we traveled by train from the airport to downtown in search of our Hotel: Thon Brussels City Centre, in the heart of the beautiful capital of Belgium and the European Union. The rest of the day was free to relax until evening, when all thirty one of us gathered and went out to a restaurant to enjoy a welcome dinner and famous Belgian beer.
Wednesday, May 5th a full day of sightseeing by our own private bus and official ceremonies in Brussels to mark 2010 as the 65th Anniversary Year of Victory in the Battle of the Bulge and the end of World War II in Europe.
Thursday, May 6th,again by motor coach, we went from Brussels across Belgium through the historic battlefields of the Battle of the Bulge, stopping at the Mardasson Monument in Bastogne where eleven of us veterans took part in an official ceremony and wreath- laying. This is the largest and most important monument, the Battle of the Bulge, listing and commemorating all American units which fought in it. Bastogne marked the turning point in the Battle of the Bulge. When the German 5th Panzer Army surrounded Bastogne and demanded it to surrender on December 22, 1944, General McAuliffe famously replied “Nuts”. The Americans held off all German attacks from December 20 to 27 until Patton’s Third Army (of which I was a part of with the 80th Infantry Division), breaking through to relieve them, thus fatally piercing the German southern flank of the Bulge.
With special Belgian Army permission, for a visit to the former underground HQ of Brig Gen McAuliffe. We honor General McAuliffe and his soldiers by laying a commemorative wreath in his former HQ in the basement of the Belgian Army Heintz Barracks in Bastogne. This may unfortunately be our very last opportunity to see it. The Belgian Government is planning to demolish the barracks. We shall urgently request the Belgian Government to reconsider its decision and at least preserve General McAuliffe’s HQ during the famous siege of Bastogne. It is one of the most important and famous historical sites of the Battle of the Bulge.
We veterans were honored at City Hall by the Mayor of Bastogne with an appreciation speech for our participation in the liberation of their country, for which they were grateful and shall never forget. This was followed by a wine and champagne reception. Each veteran was presented with a medallion and a piece of the stone inscribed, “Thank You Boys”, from which the sculpture carved out a beautiful memorial of an American Eagle which is located near the Mardasson Monument. That afternoon we visited the 87th“Golden Acorn” Division battlefields and traveled into Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, staying at the hotel Novotel Centre.
Friday, May 7th, this morning, as we traveled through the town of Ettlebruck, Luxembourg, which I remember well since it was the first objective that we took after Christmas Day 1944 when our 80th Division pushed northward into the Battle of the Bulge territory.
The tour proceeded on to the crossroads of Schumanns Eck the Luxembourg National Battle of the Bulge Monument where we had our own wreath-laying led by two 26thDivision veterans wounded near here. Following this, we traveled to the town of Wiltz for a reception by the Mayor and town dignitaries , after which we traveled on to Clervaux for the CEBA GI Monument ceremony and lunch. Later that afternoon, a visit to Diekirch’s National Museum of Military History, recognized as the best Battle of the Bulge Museum.
Saturday, May8th, today we participated fully in the program as honored guests in the official celebrations of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg marking Luxembourg’s National VE Day 65th Anniversary, the German surrender and the end of WWII in Europe.
Later, with ceremonies in Dudelange, participating in a parade through town to the town’s monument accompanied by the Belgian Army Band. Wine reception following the ceremonies and meeting Cynthia Strom, U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. After the ceremonies in Dudelange, we visited a Maginot Line bunker.
On to Luxembourg City where we attended the official unveiling of a new monument outside of General Patton’s former Third Army HQ with speakers such as General Horne from the Pentagon and Helen Patton, granddaughter of Gen. George Patton. She awarded each veteran with a Medal of Honor from Luxembourg in Recognition of their selfless Services and brave Achievements during World War II. We were also given a hard-cover book titled, “MIR SOE MERCI”!”A grateful nation remembers!” “Thank you, America, for our liberation U.S. Veterans Friends of Luxembourg.”
We then proceeded by bus to the 5.5 acres of the Luxembourg American Military Cemetery where, again our own wreath laying at the steps of the chapel in front of which is the grave of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., marked with a white marble cross bearing his name and date of burial December 24, 1945. Beyond could be seen 5,076 row upon row of white marble crosses of the fallen American heroes.This was a very emotional sight for me that brought memories of my comrades who I had lost during battle, even though it has been 65 years ago, the scars still remain in your mind.
Sunday, May 9th, we traveled right across the Battle of the Bulge to its northern flank where the initial massive German offensive by the 6th Panzer Army was launched. Famous places such as St. Vith, Malmedy and stopping at Rocherath-Krinkelt for lunch at Parker’s Crossroads, with a CRIBA ceremony and wreath laying. At this location, we met with Edgard Potts and wife, Josette, who live inWachtebeke, Belgium. They drove for nearly three hours to meet me and join us for lunch. They were very warm and friendly, bearing gifts for Ada and me, plus a Belgian medal for each veteran on our tour bus who had fought in Belgium. We also recognized May 9th as being Mother’s Day, along with Ada’s birthday. She didn’t hesitate to admit her age as being between 50 and 100.
C.R.I.B.A., meaning Center of Researches of Information’s of the Battle of the Ardennes, presented each veteran with a certificate of the Battle of the Bulge, Belgium remembers. The people of Belgium pay tribute to all those who took part in the liberation of the country in 1944-1945. We remember with deep sorrow those who died and those who were wounded. We are indebted to their bravery. Out of their sacrifice comes our freedom. To the gallant veterans we say: “Thank you, we will never forget you.”
Moving on our way, we entered Germany and past the Siegfried Line, through the Huertgen Forest and Duren, along the Autobahn where they have no speed limit and ended up for the day in the historic and lively Cathedral City of Cologne. We checked in at the Marriott Hotel in Cologne, Germany.
Monday, May 10th, after a superb breakfast at our hotel, our VBOB 65th Anniversary tour comes memorably to a close with a wonderful 6-hour cruise along the most famous and beautiful part of the River Rhine, classed a World Heritage Site. The Rhine Valley’s steep rocky slopes are adorned with ancient castles, wine villages and vineyards. We had a festive farewell meal with wine during our cruise.
While cruising on the Rhine River, I was approached by a German citizen who also wanted to thank me for his freedom. He introduced me to his Russian wife and asked to have our pictures taken together and when you stop to think that, at one time, Americans, Germans and Russians were nearly at war with each other during the Cold War and now we stand united, as we should be, with a look full of hope for abiding peace.
Tuesday, May 11th, we stayed overnight at a hotel in Frankfurt Airport which made it convenient to check in for our flights the next morning. We returned home after a very pleasant remembrance and closure of this part of history in which I was a participant in 1944-1945.