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Banner goes home: Peiffer returns item from WWII

Of The Patriot News, Harrisburg PA (July 21)

During the waning days o the Battle of the Bulge, an old woman carrying a brown paper bag in her Belgian village approached an Army sergeant from Linglestown (PA), gave him the bag and hurried away.

“We weren’t supposed to take anything from civilians,” recalled Warren Peiffer, who was 23 at the time – January 1945. “The lady appeared out of the blue, shoved the bag at me and walked away. I stuffed it in my duffel bag and didn’t look at it until later.”

When he did, he found a gold and forest green velvet banner depicting St. Cecelia playing an organ and including the village name Honsfeld, and the years 1895-1935.

Peiffer, now 86, is returning the banner to its rightful home, 63 years later.

After decades of trying to find its owner, the Linglestown man will deliver it to the choral society it commemorates in Belgium.

Peiffer was an Army mess sergeant in the 99th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge, the last major offensive against the Allies. He was in eastern Belgium, near Germany’s border when he received the banner.

“I figured that the lady didn’t want the Germans to have the banner,” he said, saying the Nazis had destroyed a lot of Belgian artifacts and treasures.

“During the war, I never told anyone about it, not my buddies and not my family,” Peiffer said. “But I kept it in my duffel bag wherever I went. After I got home, I showed my parents. Mum thought it was great. Dad wasn’t so impressed. So I put it away in the attic.”

Peiffer never forgot about the banner, wishing that he could return it to its rightful owners. For years, he tried to find Honsfeld, later learning that the village had changed hands several times, shifting between Germany and Belgium before finally settling in Belgium.

His friends Larry and Avonne Clapsadl of Hampden Township PA, finally solved the mystery. The Clapsadls had visited eastern Belgium in 2004 to see the grave of her father, who died there in 1944.

“I was only three years old when my father died,” Avonne Clapsadl said. “I wanted to see his grave.” She said while they were there, they met a “very nice couple” who own a museum dedicated to the 99th Infantry Division.

When the Clapsadls learned about Peiffer’s banner, they sent pictures of it to the couple, who told them that it belonged to a musical group in nearby Honsfeld.

The banner, 31 inches wide by 54 inches high, appears brand new with thick green velvet covered with gold scroll work and a colorful St. Cecelia at the organ. The banner, enhanced by a gold metal fringe, commemorates the 40th anniversary of the St. Cecelia Choir, founded in Honseld in 1895.

“I was glad to know that the choir still exists,” Peiffer said. “Now I can take the banner home.”

In September, Peiffer and his wife, Louise, plan to fly with the Clapsadls to Brussels and then drive to Thimister, which is near Honsfeld.

On Sept. 6, during a church ceremony in Honsfeld, Peiffer will present the banner to a representative of St. Cecelia’s Choir. During the visit, the Peiffers will dine with the mayor and his wife and later participate in ceremonies in town and at a monument dedicated to the 99th Infantry Division.

Peiffer, whose jobs over the years included livestock truck driver, bus driver and warehouse worker, said he can’t wait for his first trip to Europe since World War II.

“I feel good about taking the banner home,” Peiffer said. “It was always my dream to do so. The lady didn’t give me the banner to keep, but to keep safe.”

Last modified Dec. 17, 2008

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