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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Visit brings back memories of war

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The trip to Belgium by Edith Kellenberger and her family in May was not a typical summer vacation. The 92-year-old Brazil native accompanied her nephew, Robert Kellen, to the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

Edith, who received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Indiana State Teacher's College in 1931, has always loved history and traveling.

Her grandfather, Lewis D. Roberts, helped spark her interest. He was a fifer in the Brazil Concert Band and he fought in the Civil War. But her nephew's involvement in WW II captivated Edith's interest in the Battle of the Bulge.

So When Kellen asked her to accompany him and his family on an organized commemorative tour to Belgium, she quickly accepted.

Kellen had been a Captain in the 99th Infantry, which helped to hold off a German offensive on the Western Front by the Nazis in 1944.

Germany was losing the war and their forces were weakening. Hitler tried to stage one last grandiose strike to turn the tide of the war in Germany's favor.

He launched a surprise attack in the Ardennes Forest during the Christmas season, hoping to split the American and British armies in half.

The U.S.'s superior air power was grounded at that time due to weather conditions. On Dec. 22, with Gnat's troops surrounding the allied forces, the German General offered to negotiate a surrender. American Commander Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe gave a quick, terse reply of "nuts!"

The Infantry held the German armies until a break in the weather allowed air strikes and allied reinforcements arrived.

There were many casualties, however. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest land battle of World War II. The 99th Division alone lost 2200 men between Dec. 16-20, 1944. Their efforts were considered to be a major contribution to the eventual American victory.

Kellen was injured in the long drawn out battle. He returned to Hombourg, Belgium, for a Memorial Day service commemorating the 60 year anniversary of the battle to honor U.S. troops. Edith said, "The Belgians are very appreciative of what the Americans did."

Part of the trip was spent visiting the private museum of Marcel and Mathilde Schmets. Marcel was a young boy during the war. His family, like many Belgians, hid American soldiers in the their stone barn.

Marcel always saved everything he found left by the soldiers, even candy wrappers. As an adult, Marcel and his wife turned their barn into a museum housing every remembrance of the war they could find. They have jeep and a tank besides the multitude of items left by the soldiers.

"There was a colored American contingent," Edith said. "They were all Blacks and they drove heavy equipment that brought in supplies. One of these big supply trucks is in the museum with a Black mannequin."

"There are still remnants of the war being found," Edith continued. "Lots of shrapnel. Pieces of shrapnel are sold as souvenirs. There's lots of live ammo still being found, also. You can't wander around the battle fields in Belgium alone because there may still be land mines.

"Many soldiers were bombed while in their fox holes. The explosions covered their bodies with dirt making shallow graves. The remains of some of those soldiers are still being found."

A highlight of the trip for Edith was the service at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Hombourg, Belgium. The 57 acre site was liberated by troops of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Sept., 1944. There are 7,989 soldiers laid to rest in the cemetery, most of whom gave their lives in the Battle of the Bulge.

The end pylons of the colonnade bear this inscription in English, French and Flemish: "Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their county and who sleep in unknown graves. Those dead came from 42 states, the District of Columbia and England."

Edith took her time to make sure she chose the right words to explain what the trip meant to her.

"I wanted to go to Belgium to see where my nephew fought and was injured," Edith said. "He wanted us to see it.

"My feelings are that we better do something to stir up a little pride in our country. We don't realize it but it's the greatest country on earth. Even Iraqis want to come here because they have freedom here.

"My nephew spoke about the people who were against us going to Iraq," Edith continued. "Iraq was exactly like Germany was with Hitler. His idea was to control the people and eventually the world.

"If people would think, they would realize that the war against Iraq was to protect us and our freedoms. Once freedom is gone, it is hard to get back. People have to fight or die to retain or regain freedom.

"Freedom isn't a political thing. It's a people thing. It's an American thing to keep freedom."

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