• Last modified 7095 days ago (Jan. 13, 2005)
  • Return to Checkerboard

Christmas wishes from the M and Ms

We are thinking of you this holiday season and are hoping that this Christmas letter finds you and yours all well. It seems the older we get, the faster things go! What a filled year. Good, bad, great, sad, all bringing us to this present calm — almost!

As you know, 2004 was the 60th anniversary that recalls for all of us the past and our history, but also our gratitude toward our country and area liberators. The souvenirs are still alive and will forever be: those who have lived them as actors, victims, or witnesses and who have passed them on to the next generations did it so that nobody will ever forget.

The first big celebrations we attended were the ones at Normandy for the 60th anniversary of the landing. In fact, that was the beginning of our liberation, too.

We hosted five American friends for 12 days. We rented a larger car in order to be together all the time and drove our friends to Normandy. The weather was perfect but it was crowded. We never saw in our life so many national police forces but they all were helpful and friendly. The only problem was they came from all over the country (France) and didn't really know how to give you the right directions!

We didn't attend a big ceremony because our friend, Tom is 88 years old and it would have been too long for him. We went many different places.

Our WWII friend Sam reenacted the landing he made 60 years ago at Omaha Beach. He walked and climbed up the same hill then 60 years ago. He had tears in his eyes while walking and remembering that horrible day when he lost so many comrades. It was touching and moving to see young soldiers or young people coming forward to shake his hand and just say "thank you."

We organized a meeting at the museum between those veterans and schools. We had many schools in the museum this year because of all the celebrations for the 60th anniversary. We know the children care about WWII. It's not their fault if they don't care, that's just because they don't know! So it's our duty to teach them the price of freedom. Everyone has to know and understand that WWII was a hard fight for liberty and human life.

The beginning of August we made a ceremony to honor the first Belgian soldier who was killed in the beginning of WWI. His name is Antoine Fonck and he was killed Aug. 4, 1914. That's 90 years ago. We Belgians are very conservative. We don't forget easily.

At the end of August we celebrated the opening of the festivities of the Walloon part of Belgium. We made a special choir for the occasion and I went to sing, as I have nothing else to do! You all know I'm playing the organ but I like to sing too. We had many rehearsals and the final concert was great. The songs were almost all related to the cavalry man Fonck.

In the meantime, we were working on the organization of the ceremonies in order to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of our town and several towns in our area which were liberated around Sept. 11, 1944.

We hosted five American friends for 18 days, knowing that all the towns wanted to have WWII veterans for their celebrations. They came to ask the M&Ms of course!

The first celebration happened Sept. 5 at Petit-Rechain, a little town not far from Verviers. Marcel organized a village parade with friends and their WWII vehicles. I didn't go because we had "open door days" in the museum.

The afternoon of Sept. 10 Marcel went to Camp Elsenborn to take care and guide the 26 1st Division young soldiers who came to attend and enhance all ceremonies with their color guard and firing squad.

As he had 1st Division WWII veterans with him, he drove them to Dom Butgenbach where the 1st Division fought so hard and stopped the SS troops.

Some soldiers stayed in the cellar of a convent, which is still there. They could go out from the back door to fire on the Germans.

Marcel, the veterans, and young soldiers had an unbelievable welcome and drinks were given by the old nuns who were so happy to see the "former" liberators and the young soldiers.

The second celebration was on Sept. 10 at Herve which was liberated on that day in 1944. Marcel put together at the tourist office of Herve an exhibition about WWI and WWII which the people could visit during one month.

The most important day to us was our day, of course: Sept. 11 as we were liberated exactly 60 years ago.

We organized one ceremony in the morning at the place where a British plane crashed, two miles from the museum.

The second ceremony was organized at the Henri-Chapelle 1st Division monument were we met the walkers who were walking along the German border of 1940-44.

Marcel organized this march and put several signs along the old border telling what happened at those places, usually tragedies.

We then went in the WWII vehicles (close to 50) toward the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery for the following ceremony.

We wanted only the WWII veterans to express their feelings, nobody else! We hired four U.S. WWII airplanes to make a low fly-over and drop 60 white roses over the white crosses. Sixty children were ready and picked the roses up to lay them on graves. It was a moving moment.

Close to 1,500 people attended the ceremony. Then, before we left the cemetery, David Atkinson, the superintendent, donated to us and to the museum an American flag which flew over the cemetery on Sept. 11. That was a surprise to us and a gift we will treasure forever.

The last ceremony of the day happened at Aubel as that town also was liberated on Sept. 11. We had the pleasure to have besides the 1st Division color guard and firing squad, the color guard of the SHAPE and the 76th Army Band.

The band played a wonderful concert in a tent next to the museum. More than 800 people were here to listen to the band and that was the happy end of a special day.

On Sept. 12 we went to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of another town: Gemmenich.

On Sept. 13 we drove with a few WWII vehicles and a Sherman tank from Eynatten to Cornelimünters. We took the road the 3rd Armored Division and the 1st Division took when they went into Germany in 1944.

On Sept. 15, we had a visit from a group of WWII veterans from the 3rd Armored Division and their families and went with them to visit Aachen.

On Sept. 19 we went to help organize the celebrations for the 60th annivesary of the liberation of Welkenraedt.

I translated every speech in every town as we want the people to understand what is going on.

On Nov. 6 we went to Vossenack (Germany) to help remember the 60th anniversary of the battles of the Hürtgen Forest.

We now are ready to attend the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge: Dec. 16.

The historians don't talk about those important battles where so many American soldiers died and stopped the German invaders.

The day will be organized at Camp Elsenborn, Bütgenbach, Bullingen, and several towns in Germany to remember the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge and to celebrate the reconciliation beyond the borders.

We had visits this year from several groups of different units of WWII veterans and their families, of young soldiers, and war orphans.

Most of the people don't understand this is a generation that suffered and who couldn't grieve.

We decided for a long time to help our liberators, the WWII veterans, but also the war orphans just by giving them whatever they need or ask for (accommodation, transportation, information, free of charge, of course).

We cannot give them their father back but we can try to help them at least, even after 60 years. It's never too late.

We also had a visit of several young American soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and who are in Germany until they feel better.

Some wounds will never be healed but we can give them love and friendship as they are so far away from home.

We lost Marcel's dear brother. Henri died on Sept. 16. If you recall, Henri hid for 15 months as he didn't want to fight with the enemy against his own country or be sent to the Russian front with the German Army as the family was German from 1940 to September 1944.

Henri stayed in a hole in their attic during all those months. That was a kind of resistance to the Germans. Marcel had a hard time because it happened during our ceremonies and also because we had American guests in our home. It was comforting to know how much our friends feel for us.

[Pictures included in the Christmas card] show the M&Ms at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery when they received the flag.

A picture of a tank is Marcel's new tank. It took him three months to build the wooden tank and it's just amazing. The tank is finished, complete with the mannequins wearing the uniforms donated to us by friends of the 740th Tank Battalion.

Marcel is now working on the heating. The museum is getting larger and the heating is not strong enough any more.

A nephew donated an old boiler and Marcel found secondhand radiators that he will paint olive green, of course. He can do anything, that's why I married him!

Too bad diesel is so expensive now. We need a lot of heating, our winters can be very long. We should move the museum to Florida or Texas.

Our next celebrations will be held on June 18-19 to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Belgian prisoners of war who stayed for five years in prison camps or labor camps.

They lost vie of their best years — not even speaking about the ones who didn't make it back home to Belgium.

The ones who still are among us asked us to help them and we will, of course, as we don't want their sacrifices to be forgotten.

We are doing very well and are happy about all the celebrations. The large presence was proof of the importance people here still give to what happened during WWII and it shows the gratefulness and love we have for our liberators and our families.

Marcel and I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas spent with your family and your friends and a peaceful, safe, and happy 2005.

Mathilde and Marcel Schmetz