I recently made a trip to Belgium to attend Emile Lacroix's annual "In the Footsteps of the 82nd Airborne" march. The highlight of my trip was spending two days with Reg Jans touring the 101st battle areas around Bastogne. Prior to my trip, I sent Reg a listing of everything I wanted to see. We saw all the things on my list and more. Reg is truly a remarkable tour guide and I would recommend his services to anyone. He really makes history come alive. He had an album of war time photos (many of them credited to our webmaster - also, many veteran stories he told me) and we were able to do many "then and now" comparisons. Not only does Reg know the detailed history of the 101st Airborne battlefields, he has toured the area with many veterans who fought there. He was able to take me to the specific foxholes of 101st veterans that I personally know. For me, that was truly. incredible.
80th AA veteran, Ray Fary, and Rick Holle, the son of an 80th AA veteran joined me on the first day of the tour.
Ray Fary and Reg Jans
We were to meet Reg at the Mardasson Memorial, but ran into him on the way there. We drove to the Memorial where we parked the car and loaded up in Reg’s “Battlebus”. I count on Reg to correct any errors I have made.
Day 1 of the tour included the following:
-The spot behind the Seminary in Bastogne where 13 501st soldiers were killed on January 5, 1945 when the truck they were loading with mines suddenly exploded. It was a moving tribute to a tragic event.
-The field where the gliders landed on December 26, 1944.
-The waterhouse in Savy where a tank that was knocked out by the 463rd PFAB in Hemroulle was taken and presented to Gen. McAuliffe as a gift.
Rick Rolle with WWII photo of knocked out tank by this building.
-The site where the 326th Airborne Medical Co. was captured on Dec. 19.
-Castle Rolle where Col. Steve Chappuis had his C.P. Reg had photos showing General Patton pinning DSCs on Col. Chappuis and Gen. McAuliffe. I stood on the same spot with Reg and had my photo taken.
-The village of Hemroulle where Maj. John Hanlon asked the town to give their bed sheets and linens to provide camouflage for his men and vehicles during the upcoming battle. He promised the linens would be replaced. In 1948, he kept his promise, returning to Hemroulle with linens provided by his hometown. During the ceremony, he was made an honorary citizen of the village.
Rick and Reg in front of church in Hemroulle
-Lunch in Bastogne at Le Nuts Cafe. Reg pointed out the former family home of Rene Lemaire - the Belgian nurse who was killed during the siege of Bastogne. We had a nice lunch and Rick Holle and I ran around McAuliffe square taking pictures of each other with the tank there. I climbed up on the tank and was holding on for dear life - no foot room!
-After lunch, Reg took us to the field where the pathfinders landed on December 23 and showed us the site where they set up their Eureka beacon for the re-supply drop to the surrounded troops.
-The spot where on Dec. 26th Lt. Charles Boggess of 4th Armored Division met 2nd Lt. Duane Webster of the 326th Airborne Engineers thus lifting the siege of Bastogne.
-The site where the German ultimatum was issued on Dec 22 and received the famous "NUTS" reply.
-The foxhole of my D Co. 501st friend, Bobby Hunter. And also Bobby's platoon leader, Bert Collier's C.P. I met Bobby and Bert at an Open Hanger Day at the Airborne Demonstration Team in Frederick, OK in 2008. Bobby lives near me and we have since become good friends. It was a real thrill for me to stand in his foxhole.
Me in Bobby's foxhole Me in Bert Collier's C.P.
-The house from the scene in "Band of Brothers" where Sgt. Carwood Lipton and Shifty Powers took out a sniper. The house is still riddled with bullet holes.
-Foxhole of Jim "Pee Wee" Martin near Recogne, Belgium.
-Our day ended with a visit to the German cemetery in Recogne. The Gerrmans are buried six to a grave.
Upon our return to the Auberge at Baraque de Fraiture, Ray, Rick and I discussed what a wonderful, interesting, and educational day we had. Ray was very impressed with Reg's skills as a guide and would have liked to join me for day 2 of my tour, but he had plans to visit his Belgian friend, Joesph Fourgon. Ray met Joseph when he spent Christmas Eve at his family's home in 1944. Ray's gun was right outside Joseph's house. They re-connected in 1975.
Tuesday morning,I arrived early at the Mardasson Memorial. I wanted to get some photos of it prior to meeting Reg. Reg arrived while I was photographing the memorial. He asked me if I had every been to the crypt below the memorial. I hadn't. I didn't even know there was one. Inside are three beautiful tile mosaics depicting the religions of the soldiers who served in the American army during WWII - Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism.
Not sure which mosaic is Catholic and which is Protestant.
Our first stop was near the village of Longvilly where Lt. Edward Hyduke of the 10th Armored Div., 3rd Tank Bn. set up a hasty roadblock with around 8 to 20 men on Dec 19. It was near the site of an ancient pilgrimage stopover point with a religious memorial and across the street from the memorial was a statue of Jesus and markers denoting the stations of the cross. The roadblock was only able to delay the Germans for an hour, but that was enough time for the arrival of the 501st PIR. They arrived on the 19th from Camp Mourmelon and went right into the battle. Reg told me that one of the veterans manning the road block told him that when word came down "Every man for himself", he escaped through the cemetery and the headstones provided some cover against German fire. Reg thought "what is he talking about - there is no cemetery around here. Upon visiting the area, he realized that in the dark, the soldier must have have mistaken the stones depicting the stations of the cross for being headstones in a cemetery. They do look like headstones.
Pilgramage site Statue of Jesus Stone marking on of the stations of the cross
Other sites visited on Day 2 were:
-The field where the famous photo was taken of the abandoned tanks of Team Cherry and remnants of the 9th Armored Division.
-E and F Co., 501st C.P.s in Bizory.
E Co. C.P F Co. C.P
-The site in where 501st veteran, John Primerano’s buddies played a joke on him. John had relayed the story to me when I met him in Frederick, OK at the Airborne Demonstration Team's Open Hanger Day last summer. John was in the communications section. He was in his foxhole along side a farm road one night when three guys came to him and said there was a break in the wire and he needed to go find it. He was pulling up the wire looking for the break. He rounded a corner of the field and stopped dead in his tracks. A German soldier had his rifle pointed directly at John. John put up his hands and said "Amen". At that moment he saw the German had a bullet hole between his eyes and he heard laughing behind him. His buddies found the dead German, propped him up on the fence and decided to play a trick on John!
The previous day, we learned of the death of Lt. Buck Compton. Reg made up memorial for him and laminated it. We placed it in the Bois Jacques at a cross which had Easy 101 written on it. We were joined by Reg’s friend, Roby.
After our tribute to Lt. Compton, we went to Noville where Reg showed me the house where Maj. William Desobry and LTC James LaPrade, C.O. of 1st Btn, 506th had their C.P.s. Maj. Desobry was wounded and LTC LaPrade was killed in this house on Dec 19. We also visited a memorial to Noville civilians who were killed by the Germans when they discovered photographs of the civilians celebrating their liberation in September, 1944.
One of the places we visited during my tour I don’t have a photo of and I am sick about it. I don’t know if I took a photo and it didn’t turn out or perhaps I was too in awe of being in the place and didn’t think to take a photo. I’ll get it next time! I had specifically asked Reg to visit the area. It was under a railroad tressle on Christmas Eve where an American soldier ran into a German soldier in the dark. At first, they both scrambled for their weapons, but ended up smoking cigarettes together and sharing family photos. After the brief visit each continued on his way. The story appears in “Vanguard of the Crusade”.
As stated above, it was a wonderful two days, but I should have booked a 3rd as we were unable to tour the 327th battle areas. Next time.
My only disappointment was that Robin Vertenten was unable to join us. Reg explained to me that you were having your car repaired.
My entire photo album can be seen at www.eeptx.phanfare.com