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The return of 22 former GIs years ago

The return of 22 former GIs

     The headline over a large story in a Belgian newspaper proclaimed "the return of 22 former Gis."

     It was just above a group photo of the people on the October 1999 Battlefield Tour. (The photo with this article was by Ralf Klodt).

     A sub-head stated, "Twenty-two veterans of the 99th Infantry Division of the American Army had a reunion in our region, 55 years later.

The story:

     In the province of Havre, the 99th Infantry Division of the American Army arrived at Aubel early in November 1944. These soldiers were nick-named "Battle Babies" because many of them had been interrupted from their college studies as engineering students, taken into the military and sent to combat.

     The unit stayed at Aubel until Nov. 10, before providing relief for the 9th Infantry Division based at Rocherath.

     For one good month, they carried out patrol missions here before undergoing the full shock of the Von Rundstedt Offensive and defended the crest of Elsenborn Ridge in December 1944 and January 1945.

     The Division was decimated, with a total of 1,181 dead. Most of which came during the first hours of the offensive.

The historians/archaeologists

     The great accomplishments of the American Army in Europe have aroused diverse passions. In fact, like archaeologists, these people look for objects on the former battlefields.

     For years, this has been the case for four friends: Luc Menestry of Stembert, Marc Marique of Wouk, Jean-Philippe Speder of Thirimont, and Jean-Louis Seel of Ensival.

     Seel said, "some of us started in 1980, but this group of four has existed for five years."

     He added, "We have found identification tags of American soldiers and we have made numerous trips to the United States, and have had multiple contacts with the 99th Infantry Division Association which represents more than 3,000 veterans."

Search for bodies

     Seel continued, "This is where we look, searching for the missing of the 99th; 37 were identified as missing-in-action in that battle and we have found five.

     "When we find a body, we call upon the services of the Army morticians who recover the body and transport them to Hawaii for identification.

     "They use DNA and other means.

     "After identification, the family is notified. If they desire burial next to their former comrades, the body is buried at Neuville-en-Condrez, the only American Cemetery still open for new graves in Europe."


     For several years, at the request of tour operators, the quartet of Belgian friends has been welcoming former soldiers of the 99th on their Battlefield Tours.

     In October, 47 Americans arrived in Belgium with 22 of them being combat veterans. They have been enjoying tours of the area, Montjoie, Hombourg, Clermont, Elsenborn, Rocherath, and Bullingen. Friday they will be at Malmedy.

     (The above article, originally printed in French, was translated by Bill and Joan Meyer's grandson, Nate, who is a graduate student at Princeton University.)