Did you catch Part 1 of my day in Luxembourg on 15 October? If not, you should read that first so the rest of the day and the Sauer River crossing makes sense.

As I write this post I have to tell you, the guys buried in Luxembourg are planning something else for me. I had not intended to go visit them again in May but it seems I will. A new soldier, who I am fairly certain I must have walked past at the cemetery when I visited other graves near his, has taken up residence in my house. Pvt. Charles P. Becker, KIA 10 January 1945 (a day before my James) and who was part of F Company 328th Infantry Regiment 26th Infantry Division. I’m currently waiting to receive his IDPF and Morning Reports. If I’m lucky, his OMPF also. You’ll have to come back to my blog late May to see how that turns out!

Paul Gurgone Oct 1944 Camp Blanding, FL. Photo courtesy Ron Santilli.

Paul Gurgone Oct 1944 Camp
Blanding, FL. Photo courtesy Ron Santilli.

Now, back to our Journey to the Sauer River Crossing sites and the death of Paul Gurgone. Sometimes the dead return to help provide answers or closure to someone they loved. I believe Paul showed up to help bring closure to some members of his family who always wondered if it was really him who was repatriated after the war. Through the research into his death and the documentation that showed how he was identified, he and I were able to do that. Paul was also about to bring his experience and that of men who attempted the river crossing, to me so I could on some level, experience it and then write about it.

It is one thing to read about WWII and battles. Another thing to do in-depth research into the lives of these men and their deaths. It is a complete other thing to go stand where they fought and died and attempt to absorb it. The Sauer River Crossing sites were mind boggling. If you read the histories, you’ll learn that after the harsh, terrible, frozen winter the men experienced, the snows in the mountains began to thaw quickly due to an early warm-up.

As the snows melted in the mountains, the water flowed into the streams and rivers and caused flooding. In Luxembourg where the men were stationed, the meadows were melting and turning into swampy mudpits. The Sauer River rose and flooded the surrounding areas. Rivers were wider, deeper, and had a fast flow. That’s what we read.

As I stood in various locations at the crossing sites, looking at them from high above on a ridge, from a meadow, or a bridge over the river, I still had trouble wrapping my mind around just HOW wide, deep, and fast the river was flowing. I took my journal with me everywhere on this trip and I had to sketch out what the area between ridges would have resembled during the crossings. The photos I took do not capture this as well as I’d like. You really must stand there and experience it.

The photos here show Tom and I looking out over the ridge to the river. He’s explaining what the men were doing. We were standing on the American side. Across from us, Tom pointed out areas where the Germans had their guns placed. You could feel the energy of the soldiers there, on both sides, waiting. Some asked for forgiveness, some just wanted to go home in peace. They still roam those hills.

Tom Scholtes and I looking over the battle area. Photo by Doug Michell. Used with permission.

Tom Scholtes and I looking over the battle area. Photo by Doug Michell. Used with permission.

Sauer River at Ridge Looking at German side (9)

Sauer River at Ridge Looking at German side

Sauer River at Ridge Looking at German side

Sauer River at Ridge Looking at German side

 

Getting the boats. Photo courtesy Tom Scholtes.

Getting the boats. Photo
courtesy Tom Scholtes.

Now, to get to the river, the men had to move boats down from the top of the ridge where they were stationed in meadows near farm houses. The roads were steep and I couldn’t believe it when we drove down one and then made it back up. How did our troops manage this in inches deep mud when I was honestly a little concerned that we were driving on slightly wet leaves and a solid ground?! Once they managed to get to the meadow below, there was little to no cover. They had to make it to the river, which had flooded its banks and made them even more exposed to the well-aimed German guns. Few made it across. Many died. Some were never recovered. Some floated so far they ended up in other rivers far from where they actually died.

This brings up a good point when we talk about research. We should never take the word of one record to tell a story. The IDPF may say a soldier was found (probably KIA) near one area, when he actually died in another. Always look for other sources and check the histories.

Later I stood at another crossing site, first on the meadow then the bridge. I walked across into Germany to look at a pillbox. When you look at these photos, imagine the river flowing over the bank to the footpath. What is difficult to see here is the steep slope from the path to the river. The view from here was wide, deep and fast in 1945. Again, the men were exposed and fought under incredible odds.

Echternacht crossing site.

Echternacht crossing site.

Echternacht crossing site.

Echternacht crossing site.

Tom and Doug took me to several other places that day, but the cemetery and river crossing sites were the most impactful. The soldiers gave me a new perspective on their stories. One I am supposed to share with the world. Their stories are not just about one document or photograph, but a collection of sources and perspectives. Often we view war or conflict from only one angle. In reality, we should view it from all sides so we have a complete picture. Then we have more information which allows us to heal ourselves, them, and the world. Tell the stories of your soldiers, but consider all sides when you do.

Next to this river crossing was a monument to the 5th Division. We are forever grateful for your sacrifices.

Our day ended with coffee and more talk about the history of various divisions and the battles fought. I hope to meet up with Doug and Tom again in 2016 to hear more of their stories. Only this time I’ll bring my digital recorder and video camera so we can all experience a little bit of what happened.

I returned to Hotel Melba in Bastogne, enjoyed a beer before dinner, and wrote my thoughts about the day. The day was incredible and the lessons provided were true blessings.

© 2020 Ancestral Souls

 

 

 

Paul Gurgone, 5th Infantry Division KIA 7 Feb 1945. Photo courtesy Ron Santilli.

Paul Gurgone, 5th Infantry Division
KIA 7 Feb 1945. Photo courtesy
Ron Santilli.

Some days on my trip were very long, not in a bad way, just that a lot happened. 15 October was one of those days. Less than two weeks before I left for Europe, I stopped in Starbucks one morning to grab coffee and breakfast. I had been up since 4 a.m. working and needed a break. A man named Ron, a regular there, stopped me to chat and asked what I did because I did not have my laptop with me. Usually I go there to work. When I told him, he told me about his uncle Paul Gurgone who was Killed In Action (KIA) at the Sauer River Crossing in Luxembourg on 7 February 1945. He gave me a little information about Paul and I went home to do some research for him.

I requested Paul’s IDPF and received it within an hour. The soldiers are always helping me with my work and I know when a record shows up so quickly, that soldier has something to say. Interestingly, Paul was temporarily buried in Hamm (now Luxembourg) Cemetery with my cousin James Privoznik. James still sleeps there. I returned to Starbucks a couple days later to see what Ron had on his uncle and talk about the IDPF. I explained I was not going so deep into Luxembourg this trip so would not see the Sauer River Crossing sites.

Fast forward a couple of days and I emailed Tom Scholtes to confirm our meeting with Doug Mitchell on 16 October at the CEBA Museum. Tom responded and said I had two options of WWII sites to see that day, which we then moved to 15 October. One was a German Panzer route and the other, are you ready for this????? The Sauer River Crossing sites of 7 February 1945! I think the entire Chicago area heard me scream with joy when I read that email.

Tom had no idea Paul Gurgone had been hanging out in my house. Of course I chose the Sauer River Crossing sites. Ron couldn’t believeit when I told him! I may have been bouncing all over Starbucks when I did. Knowing Paul’s IDPF said he was KIA near Junglinster, I looked at the map to see where it was. Very close to Luxembourg Cemetery. I asked Tom if we could stop there so I could visit my cousin James’ grave again and talk to the Superintendent. He said yes.

My first visit to Luxembourg Cemetery was 1 May 2015, a very rainy, cloudy, sad day. I brought James’ burial flag with me and we flew it over the cemetery. My dad and I folded it when it was lowered. That day was important for me because James had been with me three years helping me with his story which I published in my book Stories of the Lost and my research and career. He also made sure I met certain people on that trip who had a huge impact on my life on several levels. The idea of visiting James again was exciting. I had healed a lot of things in myself since my first visit.

15 October 2015 – first half of the day

The morning arrived and I drove through the fog and slight gloom to Ettelbruck, Luxembourg along country roads, to meet Tom and Doug. Our first stop was to be Luxembourg Cemetery. Tom and Doug are encyclopedia’s of WWII knowledge, so I heard a lot of history during the day. Doug is also a photographer and took many photos of our day, even capturing some intimate moments.

Scott Desjardins and Jennifer Holik at Luxembourg Cemetery. Photo by Doug Mitchell. Used with permission.

Scott Desjardins and I at Luxembourg Cemetery. Photo by Doug Mitchell. Used with permission.

When we arrived at the cemetery, we went into the office to talk to Scott Desjardins, the Superintendent. Scott knew I was coming and I was able to leave him a copy of my WWII research books Stories from the World War II Battlefield, Volumes 1 and 2.

Scott sanding James grave

Photo by Doug Mitchell. Used with permission.

Scott then took us outside to James’ grave and spread Omaha Beach sand on it so we could read and photograph it. Do you know, James made the sun appear as we began walking to his grave? The atmosphere of the cemetery was so different from my first visit on 1 May. There was no more sadness, just extreme happiness and joy. The soldiers were cheering because we had arrived to visit and the sun shone down upon James.

The four of us, me, Scott, Tom, and Doug, spent some time at James’ grave and then we each moved on to visit others in the cemetery. I had a spreadsheet of soldiers I had done some research on, that I wanted to visit at ABMC cemeteries in Europe this trip. I visited each of those on my list for Luxembourg Cemetery, photographed their graves, and then returned to James’ grave to have a talk. He and I talk all the time, but it is different when you are at the cemetery.

Talking to James. Photo by Doug Mitchell. Used with permission.

Talking to James. Photo by Doug Mitchell.
Used with permission.

James and I talked and laughed, and shed only a tear or two, about our journey together the last three years, as the sun shined down upon us both. A journey which allowed me to walk along a career path no one else was, in the sense of what I was put on this earth to accomplish. A journey which took me into the light and dark sides of myself and the war. James, and the research I did for his story, put me in contact with many people in Europe and the U.S. who each played a role in the work I was doing. Some of those people I came to realize, had very old, past life ties to me and my soldiers.

There was a lot of healing to do on my part so I could move forward and continue the work I was doing, without it killing my soul. Three years of constant war research, particularly into the lives of those who were KIA, takes its toll. There are days I cry and scream at the universe asking why I was asked to do this job, write these heartbreaking stories, and tell them over and over to the public. And question, ‘Does it even help anyone?’ Then I calm down and know it does and continue on.

There are many in my life who think I’m crazy because I know when the soldiers are near. I know when the soldiers help me with my work. And I can hear and see them on some level. Visiting Europe brought them all out. And they have similar issues to us – consciously or subconsciously, we are all seeking acceptance, love, forgiveness, closure, healing, and a multitude of other things. When we work on our own issues, heal and let go, it helps everyone.

Each of us is on our own journey in this life and that’s ok. We do not have to believe what the other believes. I do feel strongly we should at least respect what the other believes and feels. And I know many who have researched their family history or their soldiers, understand what I’m talking about. They do connect with us. The question is, are we willing to listen and do what is required?

Stay tuned for more on this incredible day with Tom and Doug. We’ve only just begun!

Tom Scholtes, Jennifer Holik, and Doug Mitchell at the grave of James Privoznik.

Tom Scholtes, Jennifer Holik, and Doug Mitchell at the grave of James Privoznik.

© 2020 Ancestral Souls