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WW II - PRESERVING HISTORY -- U.S. WERETH MEMORIAL
U. S. Wereth Memorial
The Wereth 11 were black G.I.s who were murdered by German S.S.after they had surrendered during the first days of the Battle of the Bulge. Currently there is no memorial to black G.I.s who fought in Europe during World War II.
The U. S. Wereth Memorial Project is a fundraising endeavor whose participants are private citizens and members of volunteer organizations. Our goal is to raise money to erect a permanent memorial to honor and remember these men.
The target date for completion is November 11, 2003.
The Memorial will be erected in Wereth, Belgium, which is a tiny hamlet located in Eastern Belgium.
Your assistance is needed and would be greatly appreciated. All contributions go toward reaching the financial goals. There are no administrative costs.
Please make checks payable to U. S. Wereth Memorial
c/o Norman S. Lichtenfeld, M.D.
PRESERVING HISTORY A project to remember the Wereth 11
By GENE OWENS
You've heard of the Tuskegee Airmen. You may have heard of the Red Ball Express and the 761st Tank Battalion.
But have you heard of the Wereth 11?
The Tuskegee Airmen were the crack fighter pilots who escorted American bombers during the North Africa and Italian campaigns. The Red Ball Express trucked vital fuel to Gen. George Patton's forces as they raced toward the Rhine. The 761st Tank Battalion gave fierce battle to the Germans during 183 continuous days of combat.
They had one thing in common with the Wereth 11: All consisted of black Americans.
The Wereth 11 died Dec. 17, 1944, in a brutal massacre in a snowy pasture in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. Dr. Norman Lichtenfeld, an orthopedic surgeon from Mobile, num bers them among "the invisible soldiers." He has started a fund to help make sure they're remembered.
At least one of them -- Pfc. George Davis -- was from Alabama. Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Forte was from Mississippi. Both now lie buried in the large American cemetery at Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. Technician 4th Class James A. Stewart of West Virginia, Pfc. Due W. Turner of Arkansas and Pvt. Curtis Adams of South Carolina lie there, too.
The names of the others as they appear on the monument are Nathanial Moos, George W. Mootton, Bradley Mager, Robert Green, W. M. Pritchet and Jim Leathewood. Another list, provided by Lichtenfeld's guide from Belgium, has slightly different spellings: "Mooten" instead of "Mootton," "Bradlely Meagler" instead of "Bradley Mager," "Pucket" instead of "Pritchet," and "Leatherwood" instead of "Leathewood."
Lichtenfeld has heard that one of them is buried in Wilcox County, but he isn't sure who he is or where he lies.
The men were part of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, servicing the 155 mm howitzers pounding the Nazis from 10 miles behind the front lines in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium.
When the Germans launched the furious counterattack now known as the Battle of the Bulge, the men found themselves enveloped by Nazi troops. Unable to move their heavy artillery pieces, they fled through the woods during one of the bitterest winters of the century.
The cold, hungry soldiers sought haven in Wereth, a tiny cluster of farm houses not big enough to be called a village. The family of Mathius Langer gave them shelter for the night, but a German sympathizer saw them and tipped off the SS.
Next day, the SS marched the Americans up a small cow path and into the corner of a pasture. There the Nazis brutalized and murdered them. Their bodies were soon covered with snow. They remained there until the spring thaw.
After the war, Langer erected a small wooden cross in memory of the murdered GIs. Later, the family replaced it with a modest granite marker bearing an inscription in German. The English translation: "Here were murdered on Dec. 17, 1944, 11 U.S. soldiers."
Lichtenfeld learned of the incident when he went to Belgium in 1994 with his father, Sy Lichtenfeld, for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. The elder Lichtenfeld was captured in the Ardennes Forest on Dec. 19 and remained a prisoner until the following April.
On their anniversary excursion, the Lichtenfelds engaged the services of Adda and Willi Rikken, members of a Belgian organization that guides visitors to sites in the Ardennes. The Rikkens took them to the scene of the massacre.
The monument erected by the Langer family stands on the site of the massacre. The people of Wereth want to purchase the small piece of land on which the marker stands and to erect a more visible monument.
The Wereth 11 probably volunteered for combat toward the end of the war, when the Army eased its poli cy of confining blacks to menial support roles, said Lichtenfeld, who has become a World War II buff. The number of blacks volunteering for combat exceeded the demand, he said.
Why did the SS murder the Wereth 11?
"Maybe it was because they were American or maybe because these men were black or perhaps simply because the SS unit could murder at will," Lichtenfeld said. "We will never know."
He has been back to the Ardennes five times since 1994. The foxholes are still there, now filled in with leaves. Artifacts of war still lie just beneath the soil. Many have found their way into the surgeon's home. An old rifle and an ammunition box containing a belt of .30-caliber machine-gun bullets are among his favorites. He even bought an authentic 1945 Army Jeep, which he has immaculately restored.
Lichtenfeld said Belgian citizens "adopt" graves of individual soldiers and keep them decorated and maintained. Adda Rikken has adopted several, including the graves of James Stewart and William Robinson -- an Alabamian from another unit.
The Rikkens have spent some of their own money in efforts to perpetuate the monument on the site of the massacre. Lichtenfeld hopes to raise at least $1,000 more.
Those wishing to contribute may send checks to the U.S. Wereth Memorial Fund, BankTrust Inc., P.O. Box 3067, Mobile AL 36652 or in care of Lichtenfeld's office at 6791 Airport Boulevard, Mobile AL 36608.
(Readers may write Gene Owens at the Mobile Register, P.O. Box 2488, Mobile AL 36652-2488, call him at 219-5652 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Also see Fred Hinson's Belgium Report at:
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