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Saturday, June 22nd, 2002

On a sunny day of the year 2002, three poor guys of the 99th Infantry Division finally found their eternal resting place.  Pfc Saul KOKOVITCH, Pfc Jack BECKWITH and Sgt Frederick ZIMMERMAN were buried among their comrades in arms, almost 58 years after being Killed in Action in the Huertgen Forest, at the very beginning of the Battle of the Bulge.

In December 1944, during the forced withdrawal of their unit, they were reported Missing in Action (MIA).  From that time on, nobody knew what had happened to them.

In 2001, three young Belgians, collaborating with the 99th Infantry Division Association, organized what they called "The 99th Infantry Division Association Missing In Action Project."  Their purpose was to search with metal detectors for the numerous MIA who died in that very thick forest. Their project was a success, as they found some 9 bodies. The three above were found together in April 2001. Their bodies were sent to Hawaii for official identification by the specialized laboratory located in that State. After identification, families were notified. The military authorities gave the next of kin a choice of interment for their beloved: (1) burial in the United States; or (2) returning to Belgium, to rest forever in Henri Chapelle American Cemetery, among their deceased comrades of the 99th Infantry Division. Three of the families chose the second solution.  The three caskets were shipped back to Belgium, to the soil where they fell, and to the country they gave their lives for.

The ceremony began with a religious service, which was held in the close by Church of Aubel. Afterwards, the procession to the cemetery was escorted by American Soldiers from German bases, by a crowd of Belgian veterans and their flags, and of course by the American Color Guards (who carried the Star Spangled Banner, the Belgian Three Colors, the 99th Infantry Division Banner and the Fifth [V] Corps Flag).  They arrived at the cemetery, where at least 1000 people were waiting for them.

The officiating assembly was composed of American Officers (led by Colonel William Zekas, representative of the American Ambassador in Belgium), Belgian Officers, Belgian Officials (2 burgomayors and 1 elderman), Belgian representatives of several associations who are friends of the GI.'s, including CRIBA (Center for Research and Information about the Battle of the Ardennes), Bastogne Historical Society, Houffalize Remembers Association, CADUSA, Indian Head Association, FNAC (Belgian Veterans National Federation), Amitiés Belgo-Américaines, and so on... Last but not least, a lot of Belgian citizens (male and female, adults and children, young and old ones) were present too. Families of the deceased soldiers were seated on the first row (10 or 12 members including sisters and brothers of the deceased).  The ceremony was conducted as an American military funeral service. It was simple and great! And so moving! It began with the national anthems of Belgium and the United States, played on the cemetery carillon.  Prayers were said by an American military chaplain. The volleys were fired by a United States Army firing squad.

One of the most moving parts of the ceremony was a minute of silence. No one moved, no one spoke, no one coughed, no one cried except silently.  Even the children were quiet. The silence was impressive.

Right after came "the Taps" played so sadly by one bugle... I could feel tears dropping from my eyes. My wife and I were so moved, probably more than for the usual Memorial Day Celebrations that we have attended. Then the soldiers folded the American flags covering the three caskets, following the rules. The noncom pronounced: "Duty, Honor, Country" for the three last folds, and the folded flags were ceremoniously presented the next of kin. This concluded the ceremony.

My wife and I then paid a visit to our adopted G.I's graves of of 11th Armored Division soldiers, Robert Fordyce, Harmon Senn Sr., and Ralph Mavis.

I believe that we will never forget the events of this special day.

Roger Marquet
Honorary Member, 11th Armored Division Association
Photos by Willy Voisel