‘Sons of Bitche’ return to Europe
BITCHE, France — On the 65th Victory in Europe Day, John E. Halver helped the Army’s 100th Division commander, Brig. Gen. Patricia Heritsch, into a foxhole he fought in during a battle with Nazi forces on a hill near Lemberg, Germany.
Today, that foxhole looks nothing like it did in 1944. The trench that shielded it from enemy fire is now filled with dirt; the surrounding fields are now forests. Yet Halver walked straight to it.
“I did not come back for 60 years,” said Halver, who finally decided to make the return trip with his comrades from the 100th. “This was a root canal. Do you really want to remember a root canal? I lost a lot of my friends here.”
Halver and six other veterans and their families from the 100th Division were in Europe last weekend for ceremonies at Bitche and Rimling, France, and Lemberg. These towns were part of the Maginot Line, a French line of fortified positions near the German and Italian border.
Each town seemed to one-up the previous with more extravagant celebrations than the last. Parades, World War II re-enactors riding in vintage U.S. military vehicles and mayors giving thanks at ceremonies were commonplace.
Halver, a retired Army colonel, recalled the day he lost many of his friends on and around that hill.
Then a second lieutenant, Halver received orders as platoon commander for Company F, 2nd Battalion, 399 Infantry Regiment, to defend a railroad bridge near Lemberg on Dec. 8, 1944. That afternoon, Nazi forces attacked with three light tanks armed with double 20 mm cannons and infantry.
Halver lost about half his platoon in the ensuing battle. Despite its losses, Halver’s platoon managed to defend the bridge and take out two of the tanks. The last tank was destroyed by artillery called in during the fight.
Now known as the “Sons of Bitche,” the 100th Infantry Division is aging and many don’t think they will be able to return again.
Heritsch said whether they come back or not, they will not be forgotten here or within the 100th Division, which is now a training unit for the Army.
“They are our history, and they have pretty much set the standards for us,” Heritsch said. “The things they were able to accomplish in World War II were just phenomenal. It is important to know what their history is and be proud of the history of the 100th Division and make sure that we carry on that tradition of high standards.”