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Belgian historian meets WWII veterans at Arizona retirement community

By CARMEN DUARTE | The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson | Published: July 6, 2019

TUCSON, Ariz. (Tribune News Service) — Belgian historian Koen Palinckx meets as many World War II veterans as he can.

"We need to listen to the veterans and share their stories," said Palinckx, a speaker at a reception for World War II veterans Friday at Fellowship Square Tucson, an east-side retirement community at 8111 E. Broadway.

The gathering was sponsored by the Southeastern Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.

"We must keep their stories alive and pass them on," said Palinckx, an author who wrote a chapter in the recently released book "War. Occupation. Liberation: Belgium 1940-1945."

The chapter he wrote focused on the V bombs – long-range weapons – dropped by the Germans over Belgium almost daily from October 1944 until March 1945.

Palinckx is chairman of the board of the Belgian War Heritage Institute. He oversees the Royal Army Museum in Brussels, Bastogne Barracks Museum, historical forts, the former Nazi concentration camp of Breendonk and the care for all the graves for Belgian military war dead throughout the country.

As a historian, Palinckx has been researching the Battle of the Bulge for nearly 40 years.

On Friday, he listened as Bob Sims, 93, remembered being 18 from London, Ohio, and getting drafted into the Army and assigned to the 87th Infantry Division.

"I was doing KP (kitchen patrol) in England and then I was taken to battle. I was scared 24 hours a day," he said, recalling his tour as a young rifleman who found himself immersed in the Battle of the Bulge, which took place from late 1944 to early 1945 around the town of Bastogne.

"It was bloody, gory and cold," said Sims, who suffers from poor circulation because of frostbite on his feet that he suffered in the Ardennes Forest more than seven decades ago. "There were bullets that hit men in the forehead and exited through their helmets."

"I was wounded twice," said Sims, recalling that he was shot in December 1944 by a sniper. The bullet went through his right shoulder, missing an artery by an inch. He was taken to a hospital in France where he remained until he was returned to the field.

He was shot a second time, in the jaw, this time being cared for at an aid station.

"I was plain lucky," said Sims.

The retired flower shop owner now lives at the retirement community with his wife, Wanda, 95. The couple have been married 72 years.

"These veterans came to Europe to liberate us from fascism and from oppression. It was so important and incredible. Without them, who knows what would have happened. Maybe Germany would have won the war," Palinckx said.

"It is a great honor to be here and say thank you to these guys," said Palinckx, meeting and conversing with the veterans, aged 93 to 97.

During his speaking tours, Palinckx said, "Many veterans fear they and what they have done will be forgotten. It is our job to record their stories and make sure they are not forgotten."

In February 2017, Palinckx traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida, to present retired Army Brig. Gen. Albin F. Irzyk with the Belgian medal of the Officer in the Order of the Crown. He was 100 and died the following year. Irzyk was the commander of the 8th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division at the Battle of the Bulge.

"He was in the spearhead of the entire division and fought to break the enforcement around Bastogne," said Palinckx.

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