The Journey Begins

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

I sit here on a beautiful, sunny, springtime Sunday morning. So different from the conditions my father faced upon his arrival on the front line in Germany on December 11, 1944 – a 19-year old boy with a job to do – just 6 days before the start of Germany’s last gasp effort to win World War II – the Battle of the Bulge.

To go back to where this journey actually begins, I must go back more than 20 years. After the 50th Anniversary of D-Day in 1994 Dad got a little more interested in nailing down his individual service as a part of the overall picture whole of the War. As an infantryman on the front, he rarely knew or understood the purpose or intent of what he was asked to do and where he was asked to go. So, he joined the 106th Infantry Division Association and went to a couple of reunions. He was happy to meet up with other veterans, hear their stories and look over the battle maps.   The veteran members of the 106th Association were friendly and welcoming, and he seemed surprised by that. Eventually, in June, 2000, he requested the service medals that he hadn’t waited to receive when discharged in 1945 a few days before Thanksgiving.  After several letters and forms, he received them early in November, 2000 just shy of the 55th anniversary of his discharge.

But despite his own renewed interest in exploring his military service, Dad still didn’t speak much of his Wartime experiences to his children.  He had a funny story he’d tell if pressed about getting drunk in France, or about the day that the War was won in Europe. I’d asked about his service once, but that book was closed and he didn’t care to open it again; conversation over. Only once, during the Gulf War in 1991, did he ever say something about his service that was not a funny anecdote.  It was in response to an insensitive comment I’d made about the legitimacy of the conflict and the soldiers role in it (I was not in support of the official reasons for this War).  It was clearly very painful for him, and I never asked about his wartime service again.

Eleven years ago, at 81, my father was suffering with Parkinson’s and Lewie Body Dementia.  Dad had days of good competence and recollection, but also days that were not so good. There were more bad days than good ones. On one of the good days in June, 2007, my mother asked him to recall his experiences in WWII so she could write it down for the family. Perhaps recognizing that his time was limited, he finally consented.

The result was several pages typed by my mother as he talked. She added a few things she remembered that he’d told her early in their relationship. But Dad didn’t go into much detail even then. Maybe he still was holding back.  Maybe he still didn’t really want to share it all with us. Maybe he simply didn’t remember after so much time. It was sent to the family. We all read it and tucked it away.

Dad died a few months later on December 11, 2007 at 82 years old. We had a memorial service at Great Lakes National Cemetery, Holly Michigan on December 17, 2007 in deep snow and bitter cold with full military honors including a 21-gun salute and the flag presented to my mother by a grateful nation. I remember being a little uncomfortable about all the military stuff: he didn’t want to talk about it when he was alive so why make a big deal of it now? However, he’d wanted to be buried at the National Cemetery and all that was part of the package.

I would later learn Dad died on the 63rd anniversary of the day he arrived at his front-line position in Germany on December 11, 1944.  Sixty-three years prior to the day we buried him, he and his young friends were hunkered down in foxholes, with no sleep, no food, without adequate winter gear like coats and boots, in similarly freezing, snowy weather conditions on December 17, 1944. 63 years earlier he and his friends – other terrified boys mostly 19 or 20 years old – were firing across a field at German soldiers advancing on their positions from a small German village, desperately fighting for their lives.

My mother remained a member of the 106th Infantry Division Association. Then she read a book by veteran and fellow member of the 106th Infantry Division; “I Was No Hero in the Battle of the Bulge” by Harry Martin ( Interested in his experiences, she sent him an email in March, 2017. He, in turn, forwarded her questions to a Belgian named Carl Wouters, who is a co-founder of the 106th Infantry Division Association Chapter in Europe, attorney, and historian.

Carl Wouters reply, forwarded to my mother by Mr. Martin and from her on to her children, was the beginning for me.  There was so much information in Carl’s email that no one in our family had known!  He referenced morning reports for Company G that mentioned my Dad. My curiosity was piqued! How did he come by the Co G Morning Reports? Carl also mentioned in a P.S. to Mr. Martin that there was a ceremony in St. Vith, Belgium coming up on 12/16/2017. When Mom forwarded the email, she expressed desire to go to this event.  I volunteered immediately.

Thus, began a flurry of long days and nights diving headfirst down the rabbit hole that is the information available on the internet about the Battle of the Bulge.  As more information came to light, a more serious discussion about going to Europe with my mother ensued. Emails to Mr. Wouters about the ceremony in St. Vith led us to decide, if we were going, it’d be better to go at a time of year that would be more temperate to allow my by now 89-year-old mother to more easily and comfortably make the trip. By July 2017 we’d connected with the other co-founder of the European Chapter of the 106th Infantry Division Association, Doug Mitchell. An American ex-pat, and Battlefield Guide, married to Anita, a lovely German woman, and living in the former 424th Regiment I&R Headquarters. Their home is now a private B&B for 106th Infantry Division vets and their families. He promised the trip of a lifetime; a full overview of the entire Battle and to cover all the places relating to my father that my mother and I wanted to see. The trip was booked by July and scheduled for October, 2017.    

When we returned, heads bursting with knowledge, I tried to figure out how I could share this information with my family and with the families of other WWII Vets who may be interested.  Ultimately, this blog became the answer.

It’s now 6 months since our trip, and I’ve written up a travel diary that will follow here.  Here is also where I will tell my father’s story and offer my thoughts and reflections not only about the trip and my father’s service, but also the history of the War, and how it’s still affecting this country and the world. There will likely be some political discussions, and for fun there will be a review of the beers I (thoroughly) enjoyed in Europe.  I’ll also add my continuing research and the results as I’m still digging.

Leave a comment if you feel inspired.  Reach out to me if you’re interested in what’s published here.


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