In 2009, I visited the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium where many of the American casualities suffered in the Hürtgen Forest and Ardennes battles are buried. It was a Saturday near Veterans Day. As I arrived, a small group of civilians were just completing some unscheduled ceremony. After they stowed their flags and musical instruments into their cars, they moved onto the platform that overlooks the grave plots.
I approached one gentleman, asked if he spoke English (which, of course, he did), and asked about the ceremony we had just missed. It seems that his small group drove 90 miles to the American Cemetery to pay their respects to American war dead. At that point he took my hand firmly within his grasp and said “Thank you. We will never forget what you did to liberate us.” I shook his hand – but only on behalf of the men in the valley that spread out below us.
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US 1st Infantry Division (WW II)
This Virtual Battlefield Tour presents the locations of the numerous commemorations in Europe to the men of the 1st Infantry Division.
The US 1st Infantry Division is the oldest division in the United States Army with units dating back to the American Revolution. It was the first American unit to arrive on the First World War battlefield. Units of the division fired the first artillery shot of the American Expeditionary Corps and suffered the first three soldiers killed. In 1918 it launched America’s first offensive operation against the Germans at Cantigny. In September the entire division was committed in the Battle of the Mihiel Salient and only two weeks later in the decisive Meuse-Argonne Offensive where it fought as far east as Sedan. The unit insignia provides its nickname as well, a ‘Big Red One’ on a brown/ grey background.
The division entered Second World War when it landed near Oran, Algeria on 8 November 1942. It fought in North Africa under the Tunisian garrison surrender on 9 May 1943. In July 1943, it landed in Sicily and fought in the brutal mountain campaign. The Big Red One returned to England for refitting and led the Normandy Invasion by being the first infantry unit on Omaha Beach. It continued to participate in the Normandy fighting and across France to the German border near Aachen, where it captured the first German city by direct infantry assault. The 1st fought in the Hürtgen Forest until, completely exhausted after almost six months of continuous fighting, its men were moved back on 7 December. The German Ardennes Offensive was launched nine days later and the 1st Infantry was quickly called back into action. It fought in the Ardennes, broke through the Siegfried Line, and crossed the Rhine at the Remagen bridgehead. The unit was fighting in Czechoslovakia when the war ended.
Motto: “No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great—Duty First!”
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