John had already arranged for the delivery of eleven of the
plaques to the following Belgian towns: Mons, Houffalize, Verviers,
Dison, Herstal, LaGleize, Malempre, Melinne, the bridge at Liege,
Rotheux-Neupre, and Limont. The remainder would be placed in
French towns, with the exception of one going to a German town.
A PLAQUE FOR STOLBERG, GERMANY
Henri Register was to make contact with Gunter Von Der Weiden
in Stolberg, Germany, to place a plaque on their city hall. The
people of Stolberg appreciate the fact that their people were
treated in such a humanitarian way.
Third Armored members who made the tour two years ago will
attest that these CRIBA members are very dedicated, appreciative
and sincere gentlemen. They want to help. They continually thank
us for their liberation and show much respect for the Third Armored
American soldiers who gave the supreme sacrifice.
Most of you know what CRIBA stands for, but to review, CRIBA
is the Center for Research and Information on the Battle of the
Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge). The aims of CRIBA are:
(1) to associate all those who are interested in the history
of the Battle of the Bulge,
(2) to establish detailed documentation about the Battle of the
(3) to inform the Belgian people and perpetuate the memory of
the sacrifices of the soldiers and civilians,
(4) to preserve historical data and sites, and
(5) to help the allied veterans who return to the Ardennes battlefield.
Jack Stephenson of the Southern California Chapter told Bill
Wall about his experience visiting General Rose's headquarters
in Quivy, Belgium, several years ago. Jack asked that we try
to locate it while on our trip. We spent a memorable four hours
visiting Mme. Wauters and her family. A bronze plaque was placed
there years ago. Our plaque will be placed below the original.
In Limont, we visited a monument to its liberation on September
8, 1944, where a plaque will be placed. The names of four members
of Service Company, 33rd Armored Regiment, who were killed that
day are included on this monument.
A WARM WELCOME FROM FRENCH TOWNS
We crossed the Belgian/French border and met with representatives
from Maubeuge, Avesnes, Fourmies, and Brunehamel. The people
of Fourmies are planning a two-day celebration during our September
visit. Marceau Batteux is doing a great job of organizing this.
Those on the tour two years ago will remember him. Marceau treated
John and me to a great dinner while there.
The appreciation shown by the people at Avesnes and Maubeuge
will never be forgotten.
Brunehamel reminded us of Malempre in Belgium, a nice village
where people are sincere and down to earth. The citizens of all
these towns want us to stay for a big party when we tour in September.
John O'Brien is going to have a difficult time staying on schedule.
We left our rented car in Mons and boarded a train to go further
into France, still lugging eight plaques. When we arrived in
Caen, John immediately used his expertise as a travel agent.
He contacted the tourist bureau and explained what we were doing.
We told her the towns we wished to visit. She asked us to return
later and she would have the appointments arranged. She made
our visit to each town so easy because she explained to each
mayor or town dignitary our purpose. When we arrived they were
expecting us, knew our mission, and, in most cases, had arranged
for an interpreter.
FEISTY HISTORIAN CHALLENGES 3AD CLAIM
Visiting Mortain was an interesting experience. Even though
John had received a letter from Falaise indicating their interest
in receiving a plaque, our reception was not very enthusiastic.
We were met at City Hall by a '"feisty" 87-year-old
doctor who was considered to be the town historian. He respectfully
declined the plaque, stating it was the 30th Infantry Division
that liberated Mortain, not the Third Armored Division. "We
have a monument in our park to prove it," he said.
John and I reminded him that the 30th Infantry Division and
Third Armored Division were in support of each other during this
drive. He then fired a series of questions at us. "What
date did you enter the city? What time? What direction did you
come from?" I said, "Hell, we weren't on a sight-seeing
tour. We were trying to defeat the Nazis and in the process save
our own necks." He laughed, "Let's look over our history."
Sure enough he learned that the Third Armored Division did help
liberate the town. See pages 73-75 of Spearhead in the West.
We then went to the park where the 30th Infantry Division
monument is located. They were thinking of attaching our plaque
to this monument. John and I politely told them that this would
be inappropriate. Two plaques will be placed in the Falaise Gap
area, one in the Mortain town square, the other in the museum.
A TOAST IN FROMENTAL
Fromental was probably the most rewarding experience of the
whole trip. Please remember that Fromental is just a crossroads
leading to Falaise to the north and Argentan to the east. A few
houses and the cafe/restaurant are still there. We saw them burning
in 1944. It is now a favorite stop for truckers.
The mayor works only two days a week. He and all council members
are farmers. Our meeting was conducted in a farmhouse. One council
member, who was an eyewitness, showed us the German positions
in a map. His was in one of the houses that was in flames as
we liberated the town. It is interesting to note that the German
government furnished the money to have his house rebuilt.
At Putanges on the highway leading from Fromental to Falaise
we found the mayor and his staff receptive to our mission. At
the conclusion of our meeting the mayor opened his liquor cabinet
and proposed a toast. Boy, was that Calvados smooth.
Spearhead in the West says CCA fought heavy engagements
at Juvigny Ie Tertre with well organized Nazi units. Juvigny
was taken after a vicous firefight and CCA troops remained static
in this area for two days, while German units, well supported
by artillery, attempted to take high ground around Juvigny.
Haynes Dugan, our Historian, recommended that a plaque be
placed at Doctor Lemonnier's house, which was used as divisional
headquarters. We can't put it there because he sold the house.
We were able to talk with him on the phone. The plaque will be
placed at the Juvigny city hall.
We learned that the French people prefer not to accept a plaque
if they feel a unit was not in the area. Based on information
in Spearhead in the West and Haynes Dugan's recommendations
we knew the people in Vire were right.
RED TAPE FOR CEMETERIES
John and I met with Hank Hooker, an American and assistant
superintendent of the Normandy American Cemetery at St. Laurent.
We were lucky to get this interview because of the increased
activity preparing for all the D-Day ceremonies that were seen
on television the week of June 6.
We learned we are not able to place a plaque in the American
Cemetery without going through the red tape of contacting the
American Battle Monuments Commission in Washington. This also
applies to placement of a plaque at the Military Cemetery at
Margratten, Holland, where General Rose is buried.
John and I took a good walk on Omaha Beach, including its
cemetery, Memorial with reflecting pool, and the monument to
the "Big Red One," with the names of more that 1,000
soldiers who lost heir lives on the first day of the invasion.
While standing at the base of the First Infantry monument,
we noticed a wooden cross standing alone at the base of this
lone wind swept tree. Upon close examination we found that it
had been recently placed there by a German veteran in memory
of his comrade who was killed there.
"AMERICAN'S KICKED OUR BUTTS"
On the lighter side - When John and I were leaving our motel
one morning we saw about 30 leather jacketed bikers getting ready
to depart. We approached them and determined they were German.
When we asked where they were headed one man replied, "To
the Normandy beaches to see how you Americans kicked our butts."
Our visit to Vire was the result of arrangements by the Caen
tourist bureau. We requested a meeting in Airel on the Vire River.
She not only set up an appointment with the people of Airel on
the Vire but also with the town officials at Vire 40 miles south.
When we arrived, they were sure we never fought in the area.
Since we were down to two plaques and still had three sites to
visit, we thanked them and continued our trip.
In Airel, John and the mayor of the town checked the spot
where a plaque will be placed on the bridge at River Vire. Spearhead
in the West, page 63, says CCA had their baptism of fire
on June 29, 1944, at Villiers Fossard. On the evening of July
7, 1944, CCB's baptism of fire occured in the town of Airel at
the bridge crossing the Vire River under heavy shell fire.
There was one casualty on the trip. It was raining and windy
at Airel. While taking a photo of John next to the bridge, a
truck passed and blew my Third Armored cap into the river. I
wonder if antone ever retrieved it.
A MAYOR IS EDUCATED
Our last stop and last plaque placement was at St. Jean De
Daye, another of Haynes Dugan's suggestions. The town officials
were not sure that the Third Armored was involved in their liberation.
They thought they were liberated by the 30th Infantry Division.
This situation was similar to our experience in Mortain. We learned
that the veterans of the 30th Infantry Division have been returning
to St. Jean De Daye in five-year intervals. They will be back
this year for a celebration on August 28, one week before our
tour arrives. They had just completed installing a monument the
day we arrived.
On the wall in the mayor's office in St. Jean De Daye we observed
two pictures with captions on them indicating they were tanks
of the Third Armored Division. Because of the language barrier
they interpreted the insignia of "3 + triangle" to
be 30, signifying the 30th Infantry Division. We were able to
clear this matter up as well.
The mission of delivering 27 plaques to Belgium and France
was completed on May 18 at 3:30 p.m., which happened to be my
birthday. It was a most rewarding experience. We felt that all
the people, even the younger generations, greatly appreciate
the sacrifices of the Third Armored Division and all American
units who liberated them from Nazism. We look forward to visiting
these areas again in September, 1994.
-- by William B. Ruth