- Posted November 10, 2009 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Salute to troops
The Sons Of Bitche, (France)
The Sons of Bitche, (France)...By Master Sgt. Bill Sutherland
"... WWII Soldier tells all..."
Louieville, KY (bs)- The 100th Infantry Division participated in both World Wars, but it is best known for its exploits during World War II where it fought in Europe advancing through France and Germany.
The thousands of men who served with the Division during the war many returned home after the war‘s end to form the 100th Infantry Division Association. Members proudly refer to themselves as the "―Sons of Bitche", referencing a small French town they liberated that saw some of the most fearsome fighting of the war.
This story, told thousands of different ways, and many others stories have become the centerpiece of the Association‘s annual reunions such as the one held in September in Louisville, Ky.
John Bocus, then a 2nd Lt. in in the US Army, was in Europe in 1944, and has one such story that defines personal courage and conviction; these ―Sons of Bitche," tell and feel still the conflict when they talk about their battle history.
Bocus became a member of the 100th Infantry Division when it was reactivated in November 1942 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina for service in World War II. Neither Bocus or any of his fellow Soldiers of the Century Division that later occupied Germany, realized they would fight in three major campaigns; the Rhineland and Central European campaigns, and later the Ardennes-Alsace campaign.
Originally from the Bronx, Bocus is now living overseas in Greece, and he remembers World War II well enough to recall his involvement in the war.
"―Prior to the deployment of the 100th Infantry Division, we were forged as a unit by training at Fort Jackson, tempered in the Cumberland Mountains, and our skills were honed during Supplemental Training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Then we embarked for combat in Europe from New York City on October 6, 1944," he said.
In the heavy fighting that ensued and well into a third month of battle, Bocus fought with his fellow Soldiers until he was seriously wounded in the Bitche, France. His most memorable moment did not originate from the heavy fighting, but to his colorful recollection of having to explain to some important people where he was wounded well after the war. Bocus said, ―I remember that the town's name had a French sound to it. Most of us figured it was ‗Beich,‘ but it wasn't. The name is pronounced "B-I-T-C-H," as in a female dog.
According to Bocus, the pronunciation is important to his story. The 100th Infantry Division attacked German forces burrowed within a citadel overlooking Bitche, France. The stone citadel had never fallen to any attack or siege, not even during the German blitzkrieg of France. The 100th Infantry Division broke the streak, taking it after a three month siege. ―In appreciation of that action, the town immediately adopted the 100th Division, naming the Division, (the) "Sons of Bitche," a title the 100th Infantry Division flag carries to this day,‖ From that point on members of the 100th Division have taken great pride in telling anyone who will listen that Division members are the "-meanest ―Sons of Bitche, in Europe," Bocus said.
He (Bocus) admitted most of the Division members all have their stories, and readily admits that they are all funny, but his is the funniest.
"―In the days and months of fighting on that Citadel, I was wounded by a German sniper, shot in the leg and was wounded in action. I was transported back to rear elements of the Division and eventually after the war ended I was transferred to Walter Reed Army Hospital, in Washington, D.C., for rehabilitation,‖ he said.
"―One day, several of us recovering Soldiers were invited over to the White House for a reception. We got on a bus that took us to the White House. When we arrived there, we were met by Secret Service personnel at the door."
" The secret service guys directed us to where we formed a line where we would enter the Blue Room and be greeted by President Harry Truman, the First Lady, and several generals and other dignitaries,‖ Bocus said. The Blue Room is the center of the State Floor of the White House.
Over the years, the Blue Room's oval shape breath-taking view of the South Lawn of the White House have captivated its visitors. The Blue Room has been the customary place for presidents to formally receive guests.
―We were all impressed and as I went through the line I met and shook hands with President Truman, and then the First Lady. As she asked me where I was injured, I stuttered something about not saying in her presence. The First Lady was Elizabeth "Bess" Truman and she was a grand ole lady and I tried to think how to get around it. But the line started moving and I thought, ‗should I say it and answer her or not?‘
I finally just blurted out loudly and uncontrollably, "―Bitche!"
At which time everyone turned their heads astonished that they heard that word spoken in the White House, much less to the First Lady, and in front of everyone‘s wives,‖ said Bocus. ―Of course, I was embarrassed,‖ he emphasized, ―but, before I could explain, the line was moving and I had to continue without explaining. The further I got down the line the more I became humiliated and embarrassed because I just couldn‗t explain it in such a short sentence,‖ he said. Bocus moved down the greeting line until he was standing in front of General Dwight ―"Ike" Eisenhower.―While shaking Ike‘s hand,',
―Eisenhower immediately asked me, "Lieutenant, you with the 100th Division, aren‘t you?‘‖ Bocus said, ―I immediately and proudly replied, ‗Yes, sir.‘ I am with the 100th Division. And I‗m sorry, sir, I meant to explain to the First Lady and others that I was injured in Bitche, France, but I was unable to add that detail. I no sooner finished explaining how embarrassed I was, that Eisenhower put his arm around me and introduced me to Senator Edward Roberson, and the others..
Bocus explained that Eisenhower and Robinson put their arms over his shoulders and the three of them walked over to see Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley who stood within ear shot of the President. As the three approached Bradley, Eisenhower yelled loudly, ―Hey Bradley, let me introduce you to a Soldier that is very special.‖ Eisenhower knew he was also within ear shot of the President and the First Lady. ―This is one of our guys from the 100th Division, you know, these are the guys the French are calling the Sons of Bitche,‖ Eisenhower said. ―The entire room of dignitaries immediately understood and began to laugh,‖ Bocus said.
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Photos by (Master Sgt, -US Army Ret) Bill Sutherland
(Above) (#5) - 2nd Lt. John Bocus (Ret), 100th Infantry Division, recalls his meeting with President Harry Truman, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, and Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley during a visit to the White House after WWII.
(Right) (# 1-4) Aerial photo of present day Bitche, France, that shows the remains of the citadel prominent in the center of the town .
Other Credits: US Army Photo 1944- Bitche, France
Graphics courtesy of 100th Division