FROM THE 551st OUTPOST BELGIUM
Written by Eddy Lamberty and Claude Oban
Bonjour from Belgium!
Claude Oban and I have family members who were personally involved and suffered in WWII and especially during the Battle of the Bulge. Like quite every people here in the Ardennes who have someone who was a witness, a victim or an actor during those dark hours of European history.
Claude’s mother, Monique, was a teen and she was living in Rochelinval. She was a refugee in the castle of Farnières (near Grand-Halleux) where 800 hundred civilians took shelter during the Battle of the Bulge, my grandmother (mother side was a refugee there too). My two grandfathers were both active during the war as one was part of the Belgian Army in May 1940 and were sent to Germany as POW where he spent 16 months, he was released after 16 months due to health problems to only die in 1966 while my mother was only 14. My other grandfather served in the Belgian resistance as soon as he was allowed to enter the movement because he was too young in 1940. I also want to mention that my grandmother (mother’s side) worked for the British Army right after the liberation of Belgium in September 1944.
That being said, Claude and I have been interested in the Battle of the Bulge for more than 35-40 years now. The Battle of the Ardennes was the largest battle fought on the Western Front in Europe during World War II; it is also the largest battle ever fought by the United States Army.
The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was almost unknown to many people in the Salm valley before a visit of a first group of 551ers in the late 80s. Claude was lucky enough to be at his parent’s home while a small group of the 551st PIB was visiting Rochelinval and it was the very beginning of the story for Claude and later for me.
In August 1989, the monument in Rochelinval was unveiled with many GOYA birds and family members & representatives of Joerg’s family. The following years, other markers/monuments would be unveiled to honor the men of the 551 and to remember their accomplishment and their sacrifices in December 1944-January 1945.
In August 1994, I was finally honored by meeting my very first veterans of the 551st PIB. They were doing a Tour that would lead us in the Belgium and Southern France.
Since 1994, Claude and I have been proud to welcome and spend numerous days with many heroes of the 551st PIB and some of them became close friends, like our Americans families.
From 1994 till the present days, we have been blessed to take part to almost all the projects honoring the 551st PIB in the Ardennes. On the request of Col (Ret) Douglas C. Dillard & the 551st Association, we made our best to arrange the details of the adding of the Presidential Unit Citation bronze marker in Rochelinval in February 2001with full military honor and the representative of the Military Attachee of the US Embassy in Brussels. In February 2002, with the help of a local contact, and on request of the 551st PIB via contact with Col (Ret) Douglas C. Dillard, we were able to dedicate a bronze marker in Leignon (Rochefort area) honoring Milo Huempfner who is one of the two recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross in the 551. We were involved in the dedication of the bronze marker in Noirefontaine in June 2002 as Pascal Hainaut asked us for support. In July 2010, via Col (Ret) Douglas C. Dillard & 551st PIB Assn, a bronze marker honoring Robert H. HILL, posthumously awarded the DSC for his heroic action in Rochelinval on January 07, 1945, was added to existing monument.
Finally, in January 2017. Our C-47 Club Ardennes Salm River unveiled a new monument to remember the last mile of the 551st PIB in the war and to honor Dick Field who requested to have a part of his ashes reunited with his fellow paratroopers who felt around Rochelinval.
All along those years, we’ve be also lucky to welcome, guide and give our help to the veterans and/or family members who wanted to visit the area where the 551ers had fought.
Since January 2013, we have officially registered the bylaws of our non-profit association the C-47 Club Ardennes Salm River Chapter which is the Belgian branch of the C-47 Club Inc that was founded by WWII paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division in the USA.
Following several experiences as active organizers of commemoratives walk with the Museum of Ennal which is closed now, and after a discussion with our dear friend Ginni Field in February 2016 who pinpointed the fact that the walk of the 82nd Airborne was held in mid-February, which is not the right period of time of the Battle of the Bulge in the Salm valley.
Claude and I told her that we would think about a possible event in February 2017 which finally led to the very first edition of the GOYAS REMEMBRANCE WALK (name endorsed by Col (Ret) Douglas C. Dillard after my proposal for this title).
We had then the pleasure to make a second edition and we are pleased to announce that a third edition of the GOYA REMEMBRANCE Walk will be held on January 05, 2019. Click here for the schedule of events. We already plan to organize the 4th Edition of the GRW in January 2020.
Be sure that altogether in Belgium and in France, you have friends and true supporters who will always do their best to keep the memory of the men the 551st PIB alive and to transmit their legacy!!