(August 18, 2005)
|One of my earliest recollections from childhood is of a jacket that hung in my late mother's wardrobe. A black sleeveless jacket she made in 1945 as part of a costume she wore for a charity dance held in Verviers, Belgium. Marthe Close, a Belgian school mistress taught English in Verviers. Her family, like all in their country lived through four years of Nazi occupation. Her brother Charles spent three years in hiding while other members of her family conscripted forcefully into the German army died on the Russian front. She never forgot her family's war time experiences to her dying day.|
Like all youngsters, my curiosity led to my asking her about the jacket. It is covered in wartime U.S. Army shoulder patches. In September 1944 tanks of the 3rd U.S. Armored Division entered Verviers and freed its grateful populace. Days later a Military Policeman from Sckenectady, New York named Jimmy Savignano contacted my mother and offered her a job as an interpreter for C2G1 First Army under a Major Thomas A. Brown. She worked there for 11 months and then went to work for Third Army in Metz, France. It was during her time as an interpreter that she collected the patches and sewed them onto the jacket. Each and every patch came from someone she met in the course of her work. In addition to the patches she embroidered the musical notes of wartime songs and sayings between the patches.
On 27th June 1966 Marthe hand wrote her recollections of that liberation day in 1944 and entitled her story "Free At Last ! " In it she spoke of her gratitude to her liberators including Lieutenant George Fexy, Captain Hankins from Spokane, Washington and ended by saying " Back in the United States, I am sure they will have told many stories about the rousing welcome they got from the Belgian people who will remember them with eternal gratitude."
On 16th December 1944 in what became known as "The Battle of the Bulge" Hitler's regime attempted to reverse the tide of the war in the West. In a last ditch gamble, they attacked in an attempt to capture Antwerp by inflicting massive losses on the first U.S. Army. This attack hit my grandmother's home village and for a few days it looked like the joy of the liberation in September was about to be replaced by the imminent return of Hitler's jackbooted thugs. Fortunately for my mother and her countrymen, Hitler underestimated the capacity of the young American soldier to absorb, stop and defeat the German attack. Once more, young Americans made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of Belgium.
Family tales of this great battle further stimulated my curiosity. Who were those young Americans, what were their experiences and why did they give their lives to liberate a foreign country ?
I decided to find out. I wrote letters to Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Ridgeway, MacAuliffe, etc... I then began writing letters to the ordinary G.I. in an attempt to better understand their story. I have had the GREAT honor and privilege of meeting many thousands of them over the past 35 years. Today, I work as a freelance historian leading civilian groups and others interested in this great battle around this now peaceful battlefield.
Nothing however has changed, in that today, as in 1944/45 American servicemen and women strive to bring freedom to the rest of the world. America, as an Englishman, I salute you on behalf of the rest of us and Marthe!
|William. C. C. Cavanagh|
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