You may remember that I wrote to you in January 2008, requesting that you place a photo and a letter in the Checkerboard. I cannot thank you enough for doing just that. As a result of that publication some amazing and significant events have occurred in my life. I did hear from two veterans who served in the 99th who had connections to my father. My father, James S. Faller, was a Pfc. in the 99th Division, 395th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I Company.
I owe many thanks to Jackson Goss, who served as my father’s lieutenant in the 99th. Jack and his wife, Ann welcomed me into their home last spring for a wonderfully informative afternoon. Jack filled in details of my father’s service that I had not known. He has been a gracious and generous provider of information to me as well as to many others. Before my visit, we spent time on the phone discussing my father and his visit.
Jack asked me why it took me so long to begin my search into my father’s service. My answer to that question is still not completely clear to me. On the surface, I think I felt that I knew most of what there was t o know. How wrong I was! My dad had talked to me about some of his experiences such as his time in Texas and Louisiana as well as how difficult it was to spend the winter in a foxhole. However, there was much more to the story!
I owe many thanks to Thor Ronningen. Though he did not know my father, he provided many clues to details about my father’s service. He provided a written diary of the locations of my father’s unit from October 1944 until May 1945, which I used to follow the path of the 395th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I Company. His book, “Butler’s Battlin’ Blue Bastards,” went with me as a reference book as I traveled from LeHavre, France, where the troops landed, through Thimister, Monschau, Hofen, the Ardennes Forest, many small towns, and on to the Remagen Bridge. I returned to Germany in February to continue the path from the bridge to the Ruhr Pocket, the Danube, Moosburg, and Dachau where my father’s service ended and he returned home.
I sincerely thank both of these men.
I read and studied Ronningen’s material as well as articles from the Checkerboard and a book by George W. Neill, “Infantry Soldier.” I had attended the 58th annual convention in Washington, D.C., to find information for the trip I had been planning for several years. In mid-October 2009, I embarked on my trip to follow my father’s footsteps.
I rented a car and set out to find the path. I first visited the Henri Chapelle Cemetery. It was a solemn event to see so many crosses and stars. It kind of puts in perspective the number of young men who died during that battle even though only a small number of fallen soldiers remained interred in Belgium … so many of them, so young. Many soldiers were so young that their bones and teeth were not completely formed before they died.
I made many friends along the way. I was surprised to see so many American flags and to realize that even young Belgians are grateful for the liberation that occurred before they were born.
It was strange, but with those old military maps, I was never lost. After leaving the cemetery, I looked for the 1939-1945 Remembrance Museum. I drove in about 4 p.m. Mathilde and Marcel Schmetz welcomed me as “the daughter of a liberator.” I was truly humbled and honored by their reception. Mathilde asked that I return in the morning for a tour of the museum. She called a friend who had a bed and breakfast and called another friend to host me for dinner as there are no restaurants in the small village of Thimister.
The hospitality of the Belgians was warm and welcoming. I met Manu Ernst and his mother, Rene. Manu escorted me to old battlefields where the old foxholes are still visible as well as to many monuments in small towns that the 99th liberated. As I left Manu at the end of my visit to Belgium, I invited him to visit me in Ohio if he ever traveled west. He did just that in October 2010.
Meanwhile, my brother had written to the Checkerboard. Alphonso E. Garcia responded to him. My brother gave me a copy of a letter from Garcia as well as a picture that was taken at McNeese College while Garcia and my father were stationed at Camp Maxey. I have treasured this picture esince receiving it. The picture included the image of a soldier who was killed the first night of the Bulge and who remained an MIA until 2001. In his letter, Garcia explained that the soldier had been a close friend of my father. I had read about the recovery of the remains of that soldier, Saul Kokotovich in news articles. I realized that he served in the same regiment as my father at the time I saw the news articles. I was very surprised to see Saul Kokotovich in the picture Garcia sent and even more surprised to learn that Saul and my father were good friends at Camp Maxey. I have included a copy of the picture.
Manu and I enjoyed many hours of sharing pictures and stories about our towns during his October visit. As we were looking at pictures, I brought out my picture from Camp Maxey. Manu was in disbelief as he looked at it. He went to my computer and pulled up the exact same picture that is displayed on a website that describes Saul’s service, recovery and military burial in Belgium.
Manu had been the official photographer of the burial for Thimister-Clermont and had been involved in the recovery/burial process. He had met the Kokotovich family at the ceremony. Manu had assisted at the private prayer ceremony as well as during the descent of the coffins. Pvt. Kokotovich’s remains were laid to rest with two other soldiers who had recently been recovered. What a mystical connection from so many years ago! How could this young man from Thimister, Belgium, be sitting in my home in Ottawa Hills OH, with a connection to that young soldier? What are the odds of the daughter of Saul’s friend and Manu from Belgium holding the same 67-year-old photograph in a room in a small village in Ohio? I am not sure how to begin the calculation!
I look forward to the next chapter in my journey through my father’s footsteps during 1944-45. I plan to attend the last 99th reunion this summer and look forward to meeting some of the people I have read about and honor.
Dr. Patsy James Faller Scott
2623 Talmadge Rd.
Ottawa Hills OH 43606