The World Wars

Wereth: The eleven the US forgot

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"Wereth: The eleven the US forgot"
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African-Americans have fought in just about every war that the US has fought on our soil (and some off). So when the military geniuses during WWII felt that they could not handle warfare, it was a bit of a sign of stupidity on their part. Experimental units of the military were created such as the 761st Tank Battalion, the Black Panthers, who held numerous awards for action and had received praises from some top military leaders as Gen. George S. Patton, as well as others.

Then you had the Tuskegee airmen, who proved their value flying numerous high risk flights in WWII. They were actually some of the most requested escort pilots for the Bombers flying into Germany during the war. Again, a highly awarded and respected unit of Black Warriors that the government and the military had felt were unable to be strong warriors.

But this is not about them. It's about a seldom heard-of unit: the all-black 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, where eleven Black members of this unit were tortured, then murdered, by the Nazi SS after they surrendered to them.

After landing on Utah Beach on June 29, 1944, they fought their way with the forces moving towards Schönberg, Belgium. When the heavy shelling that took place on Dec. 16, the unit was finally over run, and those that had not been killed were taken prisoners. This was not the end of the story, but it actually started a new story that led to some of American resistance being held prisoner to another force.

Many of the survivors managed to escape, and flee into the heavy snow-covered countrysides, working their way back to Allied forces. At one point, US planes strafed the Germans, buying time for the men to get away, and in this way helped the soldiers continue on.

Their goal was to meet up with other escapees in the woods and work together to get out of Germany to the Allies, then back home. But in Worth, Belgium, things went horribly wrong. In Worth, the eleven men ran into the 1st SS Panzer Division, which had already earned a reputation for their treating of US POWs. They had earlier murdered other US troops (white) also during the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. The fact was that this Division was not going to follow any rules of engagement but would act on very sick terms of operation. Beating and murdering surrendered troops seemed to be their flavor of the day.

The 1st SS Panzer Division was known for many war crimes from 1939 and throughout the war. In every country they fought in, this unit was known for brutally murdering civilians and soldiers alike, especially any Jews, whether civilian or troops. Their crime list reads like a serial killer's from a crime novel, except this was real. So the meeting up with the 1st SS Panzer Division was not destined to end any other way but the way it did.

When the bodies of the Eleven were found, the damage to them was extensive, beating by a blunt instrument, mostly a rifle butt, multiple stabbings, one man had a finger almost severed off, then multiple bullet holes through the bodies. This was not just a standard killing, but something that took time before finally killing the men.

It is also worth mentioning that the 1st SS Panzer Division was made up of French and German troops, an aspect that has been noted many times, that the Nazi SS had as many if not more French in their ranks than Germans. But this is not the point of this issue. The point being that, during the Malmédy Massacre trial, Marcel Boltz, a French citizen serving in the 1st SS Panzer Division, was dismissed of charges without any reason besides he was a French citizen.

The house that had given the men shelter in Wereth is now a memorial to the eleven, and the woman who was only 17 when her father gave shelter to the men has run it for a good while. (It is not clear if she still does or not.) The sad part is, the people of Wereth paid more attention and homage to the men than our country, as it had been kept hidden from the people for so long by the military and our government.

Finally there is a resolution to rectify the hidden history of the Wereth Eleven, as they have come to be called. A resolution (bill) is being worked on through Congress to give the honor to these men that has been for so long ignored. The first report found is from Dec. 23, 2013. Congressman Fattah commented on the Resolution:

"The valiant efforts and unequal sacrifice of the Wereth 11 soldiers deserves to be commemorated in our country's history. These are men whose heroic story has been lost to time, but whose names must be honored, and whose accounts we must share today and into the future. I am proud to join with my colleague Rep. Gerlach in paying reverence to their courage and bravery, recalling their lives of service, and ensuring their story fighting for freedom over tyranny is told for decades to come."

The hope here now is that for whatever reason this had been swept under the rug, it will now be brought to light, as so these brave men can be remembered by their country in the respect they had deserved. There has been many a reason that the hiding of this took place — racism; enough charges against the 1st SS Panzer Division; others dealing with more political standings — none of which seem to be realistic. More than likely, it was just that the military served as the military often does, and that is to try and hide dishonor from the public, and with the faulty belief they had about the Black Soldiers, they likely felt they had cowards in the line of duty.

It is true that one could say there was some racial aspect to why the military hid this case. It would not be true to say that was the whole of the story though. Too many of the Black soldiers showed how well they could handle warfare, and even in some cases shown, above some of the other people in the U.S. military. But the effectiveness of our presence in WWII was not won by any one group; it was every man, woman, and race that fought in the U.S. military.

What it does mean, though, is what was seen a lot in America at the time of this war: we still held on to many prejudices and conjectures that were very faulty. It is also fair to say that not every group in every situation of war will get the recognition they deserve; there will always be too many. But the fact that the Wereth Eleven were listed in the trial of the 1st SS Panzer Division does say that America did not forget about them, they just never made a big deal of them. Right or wrong, they became just one of so many charges filed against the 1st SS Panzer Division, and then lost in the shuffle.

More about this author: Pierre Richards

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