- Posted December 28, 2010 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Salute to troops
De Schark Caves site of Battle of Bulge memories
By Tom Budzyna
MAASTRICHT, Netherlands - A solemn reminder of the enduring sacrifice of Soldiers can be found in the De Schark Caves here, where approximately 300 U.S. Soldiers gathered Dec. 24, 1944, to celebrate Christmas before deploying to fight the Battle of the Bulge.
Approximately 800 Soldiers were assigned in the Maastricht area in December 1944 and many did not survive the 1944-1945 winter.
Even today, Soldiers deploy on missions with the assurance, but no guarantee, that they will return, and the caves outside Maastricht, somewhat like the fortified compounds Soldiers occupy today in Afghanistan or Iraq, were safe havens from bombardment in the days preceding the Battle of the Bulge.
A Christmas Eve ceremony had been held in the De Shark Caves every year since 1944 in the De Schark Caves until 2005, when it was closed for repairs. After much work, led by the coordinating efforts of Alphonse Brull, Chairman of the Commemoration Board, the caves were made safe to resume the tradition Dec. 24, 2010, but days of heavy snow led to the cancellation of the event.
Ruud van Heel recalls an eyewitness to the Holy Mass 66 years ago -- Mr. van Grinsven, a Dutch Monk who sang in the choirs -- saying: "I remember when they fetched me to the cloister. We had to sit in a jeep. The lights were covered. We could barely see the road. While we were driving, we heard the air raid alarm. I was afraid. We drove up that silent road upon the hill that led to the cave. The soldiers were already present.
"I was surprised that these rough men could be so pious. The mass was very moving. I could not understand their language yet I could somehow read their thoughts, their faces: Who is going to survive? This might be my last Christmas."
U.S. servicemembers and their families assigned in the Netherlands to U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen and the NATO Joint Forces Command in Brunssum, as well as from the NATO Air Base in Geilenkirchen, Germany were some of the 250 invited guests among other Dutch and U.S. dignitaries who were to gather and relive this 66-year-old moment by witnessing a roll call of U.S. Soldiers who fell in a time of war.
After each name was spoken, a Soldier was going to respond by saying "present!" and would then light a candle to symbolize their spiritual presence 66 years after their sacrifice made possible the foundation for a new kind of world.
The names of U.S. servicemembers in the roll call to be remembered are Pfc. Billey Abrams, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division; Staff Sgt. Glen Brady, 379th Bomber Group, Eighth Army Air Force; Pfc. Roy C. Ervin, 320th Infantry Regiment, 35 Infantry Division; Pfc. Raymond A. Hogan, 414th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division; Pfc. Jose L. Kline, 36th infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Division; Sgt. Richard J. Lowry, 406 Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division; Tech. Sgt. Kenneth C. McDonald, 466th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 17th Airborne Division; 2nd Lt. Clyde V. Proby, 119th Infantry Battalion, 30th Infantry Division; 1st Lt. Robert O. Stine, 401st Bomber Group; Pfc. Henry Walker, 17th Engineer Battalion 2nd Armored Division.
All of these servicemembers are buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Netherlands, which is maintained by the American battle Monuments Commission. All 8,301 U.S. graves in this cemetery have been adopted by local Dutch citizens, who pass on the privilege and responsibility of caring for the grave sites from generation to generation.