On saturday 23 February 2013 your reporter participated in the 31st edition of the march “ In the footsteps of the 82nd Airborne Divison”. The participants this time followed the traces of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. It was cold, many of the forest tracks had become slippery skating rinks and now and then snow came down in the Ardennes. These were the ideal circumstances to experience a little bit the feelings the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division must have had during the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ in the Ardennes.
“I’m the 82nd Airborne and this is as far as the bastards are going.”
The paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, amongst whom the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, arrived by truck on 18 December 1944 from Reims (France) in Werbomont (Belgium). Their orders were to stop the advancing of the 6. Panzer Armee [6th armoured division] under the command of Josef “Sepp” Dietrich. The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion organizationally did not belong to any specific division and served during World War Two under in total six different divisions. They arrived on December 21st in Werbomont and entered the battle with 643 officers and soldiers. On January 9th, 1945, only 14 officers and 96 soldiers were still active…
Re-enactors on their way from Basse-Bodeux to the memorial for I Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Fosse.
The start of the march, which was organized by the “82nd Airborne All American Jeep Group Society”, took place at 09:00 in Basse-Bodeux. After the payment of an entrance fee and a last bread roll or cup of coffee in the subscription room, the hikers went on their way to Fosse. The first village on the 22 km long track [approx. 13,5 miles]. Here at 09:45 a ceremony of placing a wreath took place at the memorial for I Company 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The monument has been erected in 1992 by the organizers of this march.
Laying a wreath in the presence of veterans Richard “Dirk” Field and Ray Fary at the monument for I Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Fosse.
The attraction of veterans remains, also at an elevated age, still very welcome!
At the attack at Fosse I Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment soon became under fire by artillery and mortars from the German battalion which defended Fosse. Pinned down in deep snow they also received ‘friendly’ fire from a front post left of them. Fosse was captured but I Company lost 13 men and suffered many casualties. Your reporter faced a roadblock guarded by a seriously modified jeep.
Much re-enactment in the village of Fosse which would be crossed by the participants twice during the march.
After passing the first replenishing post just outside Fosse the participants went on their way to Petit-Halleux where a noon break was planned. Just outside Fosse your reporter ended up in an American attack on a farm which was occupied by German troops.
Participants pass the first refreshment post just outside Fosse and are on their way to Petit-Halleux.
American attack on a farmhouse defended by German troops just outside Fosse.
In Petit-Halleux the participants had the possibility to lunch on hot soup, hot-dogs and hamburgers. All food was prepared on the spot by the field kitchen of the “82nd Airborne All American Jeep Group Society”. Many participants gratefully used this possibility and read during their break about G Company, 505th Infantry Parachute Regiment which had been dug in, alongside the rail road track behind the river Salm. On December 21st the upfront posts at the east side of the river were attacked by German troops. After withdrawal towards the western bank the bridge was demolished by soldiers of the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion. In spite of heavy attacks by the Germans, G Company didn’t move another inch. Not one single German soldier succeeded in reaching the western bank.
Present day’s version of C rations. What else does a soldier want?
With stomachs filled appropriately the participants moved on to Rochelinval. Here at 13:15 a wreath was laid at the memorial for the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. On January the 7th, 1945, the 250 remaining paratroopers of the 551st Infantry Parachute Battalion were commissioned to capture Rochelinval. During the attack A Company was decimated by the covertly installed machine guns of the German defenders of the village. Also the commander of the battalion Colonel Wood Joerg was killed during the attack on the village. Finally B and C Company succeeded in capturing the village from its German defenders. The battalion reappeared from the battle with 14 officers and 96 men.
Laying of a wreath in the presence of veterans at the monument for the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion in Rochelinval.
After the wreath ceremony at the memorial for the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion in Rochelinval the words of Colonel Wood Joerg were repeated and it resounded: “Get off your ass!” and all went on their way to Dairomont for the last wreath ceremony of the day. The favorite expression of the Colonel has introduced the abbreviation of the unit into the “GOYA birds” or simply “GOYAs” After the attack on Rochelinval the unit was dissolved and the survivors were divided over the 82nd Airborne Division. In the meantime the participants dogged on.
Participants on their way in the snow on the road between Rochelinval and Dairomont.
The last wreath laying ceremony of the day took place in Dairomont at another monument for the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. The action at Dairomont took place before the attack on Rochelinval and started on 3 January 1945. On 4 January the paratroopers advanced from St.Jacques in the direction of Dairomont. During a flanking assault a section commanded by Lieutenant Durkee encountered a group of German soldiers which laid heavy firing on a section commanded by Lieutenant Quinn. Lieutenant Durkee ordered the bayonets to be rigged and the paratroopers attacked the Germans. Within a few minutes the German resistance faded; 65 German soldiers remained behind, dead.
Placing of the wreath in the presence of veterans at the monument of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion in Dairomont.
Gene Garren, a Viet Nam veteran, participated this year in the march aboard a jeep. In the past he already finished the march, on crutches.
The last wreath ceremony did not signify that the last chores for the participants had been over. They still had to pass Fosse and Reharmont and back to Basse-Bodeux for the end of the march, the certificate and the promised hot wine.
A re-enactor with a good morale on the way between Fosse and Reharmont. The finish is slowly approaching.
With thanks to over 900 participants and an excellent organization the 31st edition of “In the footsteps of the 82nd Airborne Division” was a successful event. Your reporter has taken too many pictures on the way and we cannot present them all to you here unfortunately. Do not hesitate to leave a reaction or send us an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) when you believe you have been photographed and you would like to receive that picture. Or else: maybe till next year!