11th ARMORED DIVISION ASSOCIATION
A red carpet was rolled out and extended clear across Europe for the 27 participants in the 2005 "Battle Route" tour. The tour group included 13 veterans of the 11th Armored Division, along with friends, family members, and history buffs.
After trans-Atlantic flights from various parts of the US, the group assembled in Luxembourg City on April 28th. They were greeted at the airport by Tour Guide Emmy Vanderhooft DeZoeten, and Bus Driver Jan Ruygrok.. Emmy and Jan were guide and driver for the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion tour in 2000, so for those who were on the previous tour, it was a joyous reunion. It was a treat to again travel with perhaps the most knowledgeable and efficient professional tour guide team in all of Europe.
Arrangements for our Luxembourg visit were made by the US VETERANS FRIENDS, LUXEMBOURG organization. On Friday, April 29th, They hosted a memorial ceremony at the American Military Cemetery Luxembourg at Hamm. The FRIENDS marked the graves of 11th Armored Division soldiers with US and Luxembourg flags. The veterans then honored each grave of our fallen comrades with a single red carnation. After welcoming speeches and prayers, President Ted Ardery and a representative of the US VETERANS FRIENDS placed memorial wreathes at the altar in the Memorial Chapel. An American Air Force Color Guard saluted as the US and Luxembourg National Anthems, and taps were played.
A short visit was made to the nearby German Military Cemetery, where 13,000 fallen German soldiers of WWII are interred. The next stop was at the mining and industrial town of Differdange, in southwestern Luxembourg near the border with France. After a moving ceremony at the War Memorial in the town square, Bourgmestre Claude Meisch honored the group with a reception and award ceremony in the city hall. A sumptuous lunch was served in a restaurant located above the portal of an inactive iron mine. An ancient steam powered locomotive manned by a volunteer crew made a demonstration run to the mine for us to see. After lunch, FRIENDS member, Monsieur Jean Nickels, guided us on an afternoon tour of the ancient and historic City of Luxembourg.
On Saturday, April 30th, with Jean Nickels again as guide, the tour group visited the historic town of Echternach, where the Sauer River forms the border with Germany. It was here in December, 1944, that outnumbered American forces successfully repelled furious enemy attacks, holding the town, and preventing attacking German forces from reaching and capturing Luxembourg City. Echternach thus became the south anchor point for the "bulge" incursion. From Echternach, the bus tour proceeded to Diekirch for a visit to the Patton Memorial Park, and a tour of the Diekirch Military Museum. There, they were greeted by FRIENDS members and Luxembourg Officials, Including Monsieur Lucien Weiler, President of the Luxembourg Chambre of Deputies, Monsieur Guy Lenz, Haute-Commissaire a la Protection National, and Museum Curator Roland Gaul. They sponsored a reception, toasts, and lunch. President Weiler presented Luxembourg Liberation Medals to veterans on the tour.
The last stop of the day was at Clervaux, for visits to the Battle of the Ardennes Soldiers Memorial, and the WWII museum in Clervaux Castle. For the next three nights, the group was billeted at the Hotel Ol'Fosse d'Outhe in Houffalize, Belgium.
Activities on Sunday, May 1st began with a visit to Chenogne, Belgium, where during the period of December 30, 1944 through January 1, 1945, the village was virtually destroyed during a series of furious attacks and counter attacks which introduced elements of the 11th Armored Division to the horror of war. The first stop at Chenogne was at Roger Marquet's house on the south outskirts of the village. Here, in his back yard, is the exact spot where Pfc. Robert Fordyce of Company B, 21st. Armored Infantry Battalion, was killed in action on December 31, 1944. After a brief memorial ceremony there, our group, and the entire village assembled for a parade to the village center. It was led by a US Army Color Guard, followed by Belgian Veteran Flag Bearers, a Marching Band, Belgian and American Military and Civilian Officials, and Military Collector's vehicles.
The parade ended at the Memorial Monument which honors the citizens of Chenogne who lost their lives during the battle. In a ceremony which followed, Burgermestre Yves Besseling of Vaux-Sur-Sure, Belgian officials, citizens, and war veterans welcomed our veterans, and together they paid tribute to the soldiers and civilians who died at Chenogne in WWII. At the end of the ceremony, the marching band played Taps, and the National Anthems of Belgium and the United States. A reception and luncheon followed at the Chenogne Community Center.
In the afternoon, with Belgian historians Roger and Monique Marquet as guides, the group traveled to Magarotte, for a visit with Madame Simone Rigaux-Martin at her farmhouse, which served as a command post for Company A, 55th Armored Infantry Battalion during the Battle of the Bulge. It was a joyous reunion for Frank Stout, as he first met Madame Simone in the winter of 1944-45, when she was thirteen years old, and he was billeted at her parents home.
The next activity was a visit to the village of Tillet, where the group was welcomed by the Burgermestre of St. Ode, Monsieur Jacques Pierre and a contingent of Belgian war veterans. Another brief memorial and wreath laying ceremony was held, followed by a reception hosted by local officials. The tour group then returned to Houffalize, passing through the Bulge battlefield sites of Acul, Pinsamont, Rechrival, and Hubermont.
Monday, May 2nd was another eventful day. The first stop was at Noville, where the 41st. Tank Battalion suffered heavy losses in battle on January 14, 1945. Ted Hartman and Jules Levin related their memories of the battle. Ted located the exact spot where his tank was disabled.
At 11:00 A.M. the tour group arrived at the Mardasson Memorial, on the outskirts of Bastogne. They were met by an entourage of local citizens and officials, as well as Belgium and US Army personnel. The Mardasson Memorial is a large open edifice, formed in the shape of a five point star. It was inaugurated in 1950 to celebrate the lasting friendship between the American and Belgian people, who were united against a common enemy in the Battle of the Ardennes. It honors the memory of those soldiers and civilians who gave their lives in the defense of freedom.
In a ceremony held at the Mardasson Memorial, the first event was the presentation of the 11th Armored Division Colors to the Bastogne Historical Center. A
member of the US Army Color Guard carried the Division Colors, decorated with Ardennnes-Alsace, Rhineland, and Central Europe Campaign Streamers, and also
with an affixed Brevet awarded by the Government of Belgium. The Guardsman passed the Colors to Association President Ted Ardery, who in turn presented them
A military procession carried the 11th Armored Division Colors a short distance to the Historical Center Museum, where they will go on permanent display. At a ceremony in the Museum, the Bourgmestre of Bastogne awarded medals to each of the assembled veterans, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of the Ardennes. An honor drink and reception followed at the Museum.
In the afternoon, a visit was made to MacAuliffe Square in Bastogne, where a tank that once belonged to Company B, 41st. Tank Battalion is on display. The tour group then drove to the village of Bourcy, for a meeting with school children of the primary grades at the local school. The children and the veterans interacted with the help of a teacher who served as translator. It was an enjoyable experience for all, a learning experience for the children, and a visit that was greatly appreciated by the veterans.
The bus then made a loop tour of battle field areas from Recogne through Longchamps, Bertogne, Compogne, Cobru, and ending at Foy. There, veterans and COBRA members joined in a wreath laying ceremony at the recently erected memorial at the site of the Foy Temporary American Military Cemetery. The cemetery once held the remains of over 2000 allied soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge. In 1948, all bodies were exhumed, and sent either to other permanent military cemeteries in Europe, or returned to the United States. From Foy, the tour group returned to the hotel in Houffalize.
The next morning, May 3rd, the tour group embarked for Germany, passing through areas involved in German attacks during the early days of the Battle of the Bulge. The group gained an appreciation for the difficulties faced by the outnumbered American troops that faced the Nazi onslaught in the narrow canyons and dense woods of the northern Ardennes. Historically significant sites that were visited were Trois-Pontes, Stavelot, Malmedy, and St. Vith.
Entering Germany at Dasburg, an unsuccessful search for remnants of the Siegfried Line was made, passing through the villages of Eschfeld, Lutzkampen, and Leidenborn. We had been warned earlier that the dragons teeth and pillboxes are fast disappearing, as the land is being restored to agricultural use. The tour group made a lunch stop at the beautiful and historic town of Prum. After lunch, the bus proceeded to Gerolstein, where after a costly battle in 1945, the 11th Armored Division embarked on its first dash to the Rhine. Our tour bus dash to the Rhine took far less time than the armored columns took in 1945. After passing through Mayen and Andernach, the tour bus entered the Autobahn, and traveled north along the Rhine River to the resort town of Bad Breisig, where deluxe overnight accommodations in a riverside hotel were enjoyed.
After breakfast on the morning of May 4th, the group proceeded north along the Rhine to the site of the former Ludendorf Railroad Bridge at Remagen, which figured prominently in the assault on central Germany. On March 7, 1945, German forces attempts to demolish of the bridge were only partially successful. Brave American troops rushed across the damaged structure, and established the first bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine. All remnants of the Remagen Bridge are now gone, except for massive twin stone towers which once encompassed the bridge portals on both river banks. The group visited the memorial park that has been established along the river bank at the west bridge portal. From Remagen, the tour group traveled upstream along the west bank of the Rhine, through Brohl and Andernach, and on to the mouth of the Moselle River at Koblenz. A stop was made at the confluence park, where a massive statue glorifies Kaiser Wilhelm I. A nearby smaller monument contains concrete slabs that once were a part of the infamous Berlin Wall.
Proceeding upstream past the vineyards and villages of beautiful Moselle River Valley, a luncheon stop was made at the medieval village of Cochem, situated below the picturesque Cochem Castle, which dominates the skyline. The tour bus crossed the Moselle River at the village of Bullay. The bridge is located close to the area where the Division crossed the Moselle on a pontoon bridge in 1945. There began the second drive to the Rhine through the Palatinate region. Climbing up from the river through a canyon leading to the Palatinate highlands, the bus took us southeasterly through Zell, Simmern, and Bad Kreusnach. The Rhine River was again reached at Oppenheim. At Nierstein, a short distance north of Oppenheim, the site of the 1945 pontoon bridge over the Rhine river was identified after much speculation and discussion. It was there that the 11th Armored Division crossed the Rhine on March 28, 1945, and began the final drive through central Germany and into Austria.
On May 5th, after an overnight stay in Darmstadt, the tour bus followed the Autobahn past Hanau and to Fulda. Leaving the Autobahn there, the bus proceeded to Wasungen, where in 1945 11th Armored Division Engineer troops constructed a bridge across the Werra River. At Wasungen, historian and author Lothar Gunther joined the tour as guide for the day, along with his friend and interpreter, Heinz Kummer. Herr Gunther has recently published a book, "Als die Amis Kamen" which traces the activities of the 11th Armored Division on their march through Thuringia. After lunch in Meiningen, Lothar led the group through Obermasfeld, Steinbach-Hallenberg, to Oberhof, site of a huge modern winter sports complex in the forested mountains of Thuringia. Descending from the mountains, the tour passed through Zella Mehlis, site of the Walther Arms factories, where in 1945 many small arms were "liberated" by soldiers, as their units passed through the area.
At Suhl, Bürgermeister Ruediger Mueller and city officials welcomed the tour group with a reception in the observation lounge of the Hotel Mercure, the tallest building in the city. Speaking on behalf of the citizens of Suhl, Bürgermeister Mueller expressed thanks for their liberation from the oppressive Nazi regime. After a short visit to the nearby Antique Arms Museum, the tour proceeded to Schleusingen, where fanatical German troops attacked and drove out elements of 41CAV on April 6, 1945. On the next morning, not realizing that the area was still in enemy hands, the 3rd Platoon of A56ENG approached the city to remove a reported road block. The platoon was ambushed at nearby Rappelsdorf, and sustained significant casualties. The third, and final action at Schleusingen occurred later that day, when elements of 42TK recaptured the town. The tour group stopped for photos in front of imposing Schleusingen Castle. This was also the site of the 41CAV and 42TK battles.. Arriving at Coburg for the night, the group expressed their thanks to Lothar Gunther and Heinz Kummer for their very informative services as guide and interpreter through the State of Thuringia.
On Friday, May 6th, the tour route led through Kronach and Kulmbach to Bayreuth. A short stop was made there at the historic Wagnerian Opera House. Continuing on to Grafenwohr, a US Military Police Sergeant joined the group for a guided tour of the US Army Base. During WWII. The military installation at Grafenwohr was a major German tank and officer training facility. Since its capture by the 11th Armored Division in 1945, it has been continuously occupied and used as a training base by the US Army. Continuing through Weiden and Cham, the group paused for the night at Regen, where in 1945, 11th Armored Division units battled to cross the Regen River.
The next day, Saturday, May 7th, the tour proceeded through Passau to Wegesheid, where another intense battle occurred in the closing days of WWII. Continuing on into Austria, the bus passed through Neufelden, Rottenegg, Urfahr, to Galneukirchen. After lunch there, the tour continued through St. Georgen to nearby Gusen Village. The tour arrived at the Gusen Visitor's Forum on site of the former Gusen Concentration camp to attend 3:30 P.M. ceremonies commemorating the 60th Anniversary of its liberation.
At the Gusen Visitor's Forum, we met 11th Armored Division Association members Harry Saunders D41CAV and Leroy Petersohn HQCCB, who were invited to the ceremonies by the Austrian Government. Harry Saunders was a member of the reconnaissance platoon that first entered the concentration camps of Mauthausen and Gusen. Leroy Petersohn was a Medic who followed closely, and who stayed at Mauthausen to minister to the medical needs of survivors. At the ceremony, Harry and Leroy were both awarded Golden Meritorious Medals of the Republic of Austria. As the representative of the 11th Armored Division Association, President Edward Ardery received the Republic of Austria Senior Meritorious Medal. The 26th Infantry Division was also recognized for their humanitarian action in setting up an on site field hospital at Gusen to treat surviving prisoners. During the ceremony, the recently installed 11th Armored Division Memorial Monument was dedicated and decorated with a memorial wreath. The memorial plaque on its granite base was financed through donations of 11th Armored Division Association members. It was purchased with the assistance of the Office of the American Military Attache at the US Embassy in Vienna.
On Sunday, May 8th, the tour group joined a crowd of an estimated at 21,000 people, for ceremonies marking the 60th Anniversary Commemoration of the Liberation of Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The formidable prison has been preserved and is managed by the Republic of Austria as a Memorial. The first ceremony, at 10:30 A.M. took place in front of the 11th Armored Division and 26th Infantry Division Memorial Plaques in the lower courtyard. The ceremony was led by US Ambassador to Austria, W. L. Lyons Brown, assisted by US Military Attaché, Col. Scott W. Salyers. Presentations and laying of wreaths were made by officials and survivors from Luxembourg and Spain. The US Embassy, and the 11th Armored Division Association also laid wreaths beneath the plaques.
A second ceremony in the main camp compound began with a symbolic opening of the main gate leading to the inner camp compound. Veterans, as liberators, congregated outside of the closed main gate. Survivors, wearing blue and white striped scarfs, gathered inside the compound. On a signal, the gate was opened, and the survivors rushed forward to embrace their liberators. There were few dry eyes in either group. As a band played a funeral dirge, veterans and survivors marched together the length of the main compound. The assembled crowd, hailing from many nations, and with sad ties to the concentration camps applauded to show their respect and appreciation to the survivors and their liberators.
Austrian President Heinz Fisher, in his address to the crowd, pledged "Never Again." He reaffirmed that the crimes, including the planned extermination of groups of people during the Nazi era should never be considered as "relative only to that period of history." He called for continuing the fight for democracy and human rights, as an obligation to those murdered in the concentration camps. Catholic Cardinal Schönborn in his remarks emphasized that "The fight against the shadows of yesterday has not yet been won. The way out of that danger is still far away.
The ceremonies were attended by dignitaries from many nations, including Minister President Jose Luis Zapatero of Spain. Many Spaniards, who fought on the side of the Spanish Republicans against Dictator Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War were incarcerated in Mauthausen and Gusen Concentration Camps. After completion of the Mauthausen ceremonies, the tour group went on to Linz for a two night stay.
On Monday, May 9th, the tour group toured the Saltzkammergut lake district of Austria. The first town visited was Kremsminster, where 41TK veterans Ted Hartman and Jules Levin were stationed after the war. The skyline there is dominated by a huge monastery that gave its name to the town. The tour then visited Gmunden on the beautiful lake, Traunsee, at the gateway to the Austrian Alps. Gmunden was the Headquarters for the 11th Armored Division after the cessation of hostilities, and until dissolution of the Division on August 15, 1945.
From Gmunden, the tour group proceeded to the south end of the lake and to the village of Ebensee. An infamous concentration camp bearing the name of the village was once located there. After some searching, the Ebensee Memorial, a stone edifice which formerly was one of the camp gates was located. There Howard Greinetz, assisted by Joe Garfola, offered prayers to victims of the Holocaust. Joe Garfola also placed American flags at the Memorial, and at the plaque dedicated to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, liberators of Ebensee Concentration Camp.
After lunch in the alpine resort town of Bad Ischl, the tour proceeded on a loop route past another large alpine lake, Attersee, before returning to Linz on the Autobahn. On the next morning, May 10th, the Bürgermeister of Linz, Dr. Franz Dobusch, arranged for a two hour guided tour of the city. Each veteran was also presented with a beautifully illustrated pictorial book on the City of Linz. A press conference with veterans was also arranged in the Hauptplatz, the central square of the city. After leaving Linz, the tour group headed to Vienna, stopping at Melk for lunch and a tour of the beautiful and ancient Melk Abbey. Arriving in Vienna late in the afternoon, the group stayed at the Hotel Wandl, in the heart of the city.
May 11th, the final full day of the tour, included a morning tour of Vienna, an afternoon visit to the Bach-Hengl Huriger, a wine garden in the northern suberb of Grinzing, and a farewell dinner at a downtown restaurant, famous for its weiner schnitzel. Early on the following morning, the group traveled to the International Airport, for an exchange of farewells, and departure for the long trip home.