First Stop: Henri Chapelle Cemetery and Memorial
We left from the B&B headed the 50 minutes or so to Henri Chapelle. Henri Chapelle is where Pfc Donald Schultz is buried (as well as several of the Wereth 11). We added this stop to our itinerary when we learned of Donald’s connection to Dad’s story. We brought the picture of Donald that Carl gave us with his gravesite location and stopped for flowers to take to Donald’s grave.
The cemetery is on a hilltop overlooking the now peaceful countryside of Belgium. We arrived well before noon and the sun was shining. Doug took us to the office as he’d arranged for a golf cart to take us to see Donald’s grave. Lou Aske took us out in a cart to the gravesite.
When Lou heard the story of Schultz’s death and that Dad likely took his rifle as he retreated from the 12/16/1944 frontline position, he asked us to wait at the grave. He took the cart and headed back to the office, returning quickly with a bucket full of Omaha Beach sand a sponge and a Belgian and American flag.
Lou then rubbed the sand into the engraving of Donald’s name and date of death, and put the Belgian flag on his left and the American Flag on his right. Doug explained that this is done for family of a fallen soldier by the Cemetery staff so that the name and date will be visible for photographs. Only sand from Omaha Beach is considered “worthy” enough to be used for this purpose. The flags are also provided to honor the grave for the visit of family.
Because of the connection between Donald and Dad, Lou considered us to be “family” of the deceased and provided us with this ceremony at Donald’s graveside. Mom and I were both very touched.
It was a serious and melancholy visit. I was very emotional. Without Donald’s death, Dad probably wouldn’t have come home. Mom wouldn’t have met and married him, and none of their children would have been born. No me, no child of mine, no future grandchildren; no other family; nothing.
It all seemed so arbitrary. Donald died. Dad lived. Donald was no older than Dad and probably no worse a person. In Floyd’s recollection and based on the one comment I remember Dad making, Donald died probably never knowing what hit him. He had no advance warning; he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It didn’t seem fair that he should be lying here in a cemetery, buried at only 19 with so many other young boys, while others went home, had lives, and families that the dead were deprived of. Did Donald ever kiss a girl? Did he leave behind a sweetheart? Had his family ever been to visit his grave? Why didn’t they bring him home to buried near them?
We returned to the office and talked to Emily Duflo who works at the cemetery. She let us know that Donald’s grave had been “adopted” by a local schoolteacher, Michel Lorquet since 1999. Doug and Carl know Michel, and Doug told us that Michel brings his students to the cemetery often. We got his email address from Doug later with the intention of contacting him.
There is a chapel and colonnade at the cemetery, as well as battle maps of the actions that took most of the young men buried at Henri Chapell (Hurtgen Forest and Battle of the Bulge) but we didn’t visit those.
Second Stop: We left Henri Chapelle and headed to Aachen Germany to see the Cathedral there.
The city is quite old, picturesque and lovely. The place where the city stands seems to have been in continuous occupation since the Neolithic era because there are hot mineral springs located there. The cathedral was ordered built by Charlemagne in AD 796. It still stands and obviously has been added to since then. The Cathedral is the final resting place of the remains of Charlemagne.
During the WWII there was a bloody and costly battle fought in the city. Damage to the exterior of the cathedral can still be seen.
The windows are modern installed in the mid-50’s. I would assume that they were destroyed during the Battle of Aachen, when the city was pounded with artillery fire in October 1944.
Third Stop: Val Dieu Abbey for (a very good) lunch. Unfortunately, we had to hurry as we were running late for our last stop of the day. The Brasserie connected to the Abbey was closed, But never fear; I did get beer! There is a surprisingly good cafeteria in the Abbey itself and a very good vegetarian baked pasta with cheese and a salad was available. And right there in the restaurant of the Abbey was Val Dieu Beer on tap in all it’s glory! Mnmmmm! Delicious. I had a big glass of the brown ale, Mom had a small glass of the blonde, and Doug a large glass of the same blonde.
Fourth Stop: Remember Museum to see Marcel & Mathilde Schmetz (owners of this private and amazing museum they keep in their barn!).
We arrived a little late, and there was an American couple, Pat & Carol Bieneman from Sun City FL, waiting for us to arrive to start the tour. They are both veterans, and Carol’s father was a WWII Era Veteran. This was not their first stop at the M&M Museum (as it is affectionately knows in the area for the first names of the owners).
Honestly, it’s a strange and delightful collection of anything and everything relating to the War. There is a whole room containing a collection of models of various airplanes, vehicles, and ships from the era (literally hundreds and hundreds of them), there are various tableaux with mannequins dressed in donated uniforms (Marcel has modeled the faces of each mannequin to faithfully match the former owner and has photos of the donor near the mannequin – he does great work!), commemorative quilts and patches of various units, an actual tank outside, and one Marcel built from wood inside that had me totally fooled and wondering how the floor beneath it didn’t collapse! They have a Red Ball Express truck and trailer (usually driven by African American soldiers delivering supplies to the front lines).
https://www.army.mil/article/69020/belgium_travel_a_living_remembrance_of_american_world_war_ii_sacrifice (the Rosie the Riveter display mentioned in this article is now fully realized).
Mathilde is a lovely woman who speaks several languages to give tours to visitors. Marcel is not so talkative as he only speaks French. When the tour was over, she earned a special spot in my heart by inviting Mom, Doug, me, and the Bieneman’s back to her dining room for waffles and beer! We had much conversation with everyone, and enjoyed the visit thoroughly.
This is a fully private museum. They purchase nothing – all is donated or from Marcel’s own collection of stuff left behind by American soldiers on his family farm. Marcel and Mathilde are getting on in years, and they rely on volunteers to keep the museum clean and update the exhibits. There’s a donation link on their website (right side at the bottom of the army green side bar). They need donations for the heat, electricity, upkeep, and improvements. We made a donation on the day of the tour and I’m planning another one at Memorial Day this year.
Fifth Stop: We headed out from the Remember Museum, racing the sunset. This was our last day in the area and I wanted to lay flowers in Dad’s and Floyd’s foxhole. We raced back to Germany and managed to arrive just as the sun was setting. That felt like an appropriate way to end our time in the area; honoring and remembering the frightened young men thrust into battle so unprepared and so under provisioned.
We returned to the B&B and packed our cases in preparation for the trip back to Amsterdam the next day.