Here is the return to the old habits that occupied most of my time between the years 1970-1995, a time when the return of American veterans was common. Then time doing its work, these veterans began to leave us one after the other, very often in a great silence as much from families as from friends. At the time, there were also occasional children of these veterans who came to see the places where their parents, father, mother, sister, and brother, had fought. Things calmed down when the generation of GIs who liberated our little country, Belgium, passed the reasonable milestone of 85 years and made their final transfer. Today, they are almost all gone. Gone but not forgotten. We are not dealing anymore with these old men but with their children and grandchildren.
However, I must draw the reader’s attention to the fact that if the walks in the forests with the veterans were often interesting, they were also sometimes pretty sad for those who were on the front line and much more folkloric for those who served to the rear. Despite this, it was always a great pleasure to be able to lead these men to places that marked them when they were able to recognize, or even identify, the place where I had taken them based on the information they had given me. given in advance. Today, with the first and subsequent second generations, things are particularly different. From now on, they arrive with names, places, documents, and photos. Although this does not make things easier, it still allows research to be guided in more precise directions from the start.
Below, are the document (two text pages) and the photos shot in 1944-1945, by Pfc Joseph Lombardo, 502nd Engineer Light Ponton Company. Pfc Lombardo spent a week or more in the small town of Solwaster (County of Jalhay) in Belgium during the winter of 1944-1945. He was billeted with two friends, Chester and Wilkie, in a five-head Belgian family: the father, the mother, one daughter (Monique 8 years old) nicknamed ‘Why’, and two brothers, Joseph, 5 years old, and Jean 1 and a half year old.. That’s about all the information at hand now.
The following is the 2-page text written down by PFC Joseph Lombardo after the war.
When one is on guard duty it seems the hours never pass. Take the night I was on guard with Chester up in the Ardennes area of Solwaster, Belgium, a couple of miles down the road leading to Francorchamps. It was a very dark and cold night, we were both frozen with the wind and the snow coming down. It was the usual two on and four off naturally the four flew but the two never ended. It was a quiet night and about ten minutes after our tour some one of the guards yelled for the Corporal of the guards. We knew it didn’t pay to try and sleep – so, we just laid down at the house where we were stationed and prayed that we didn’t have to go out again. No such luck – the guards on one of the posts said they saw parachutes coming down about a quarter of a mile away. So all the guards were brought out again and told to keep a sharp watch out for the enemy troops. We looked and listened and looked again nothing. For an hour or two we were all on the alert for any sign of activity but nothing and we still had to man our posts. We were taken off the alert but it did Chester and me no good as our tour was up again. I could have shot those guards myself for the false alarm. The wind and snow had picked up again to a blizzard. We were dead tired and weary from no sleep. Where we were quartered, with two other GIs, there was a family of five, a mother, father, and three small children, Monique, we always called her ‘Why’ because she always asked why, who was eight, her brother Joseph who was five, and the baby Jean who was one and a half. When we were free, Monique would take us up the street and try to teach us to ski which she did very well at. The wife would keep a fire going in a wood stove all day and night so when we came in off guard we could warm up and also leave a hot drink of some sort for us. One day, we borrowed the compressor truck with a saw that operated by compressed air to go to the forest and cut a load of wood for the family and also gave them part of a deer that Wilkie had killed. The wife made us a beautiful meal with a part of it and to this day I can still remember the excellent taste of it.
Our post was about a hundred yards from a civilian’s home when a door opened and Chester said heads up something is happening. It looked with him towards the house and a figure came out and walked towards us. When he or she was close enough we asked them to halt. It was a little old lady about sixty or seventy years old and in French told us she made us hot chocolate from the candy we gave her. Before she gave us the chocolate she drank some from each cup to show us it was OK. Boy, it was just what the doctor ordered and we thanked her again and again. It made us feel that we were appreciated for being there. The next day when we received our rations we both brought our chocolate bars and other items we could spare and got our buddies to pitch in to the little old lady. Before we left we loaded her home with firewood and part of the deer meat one of the other fellows had gotten. She kissed us all and said she hoped God kept us safe and returned us home soon. When we were leaving the village all the people came out to see us off and gave us bottles of wine and other gifts to take with us as well as wishing us God’s blessings. They were very heartwarming people who had treated us, GIs, like family and I have never forgotten the family we lived with for a week or two.
The following are the photos given to me by PFC Lombardo’s grandson Joe Lombardo, for identification (when it’s possible). I have requested authorization for anyone to use these images but a credit had to be added if used online (Photo by Pfc Joseph Lombardo, 502-ELPC, via European Center of Military History (eucmh.com).
As all my readers know, my site is closed for registering because of spam. I will create a script and a form below every photo to give you a way to input your name and first name, your country, and a text area to write your comment. The info requested is to allow me to credit and cite you correctly and to create an EUCMH account for you.