LANDSTUHL, Germany (May 29, 2014) -- A significant memorial was held in the small town of Wereth, Belgium, to celebrate, honor and recognize 11 African-American Soldiers who fought and were massacred during World War II.
These men are now remembered as "The Wereth 11."
To pay tribute to these men, Color Guard members from Lanstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, joined a contingent of fellow U.S. and Belgian Servicemembers, the Vogelweh Gospel Service Choir, and 350 other local and well-traveled attendees at the May 17, 2014, ceremony.
The honored Soldiers were attached to the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, an all-black unit, at the onset of the Battle of the Bulge. On December 17, 1944, they were separated from their unit and found themselves trudging through deep snow in the woods of eastern Belgium in an attempt to avoid German patrols. After walking for hours, the hungry and weary Soldiers arrived in the town of Wereth where the men were taken in by local farmer Mathias Langer. They were given hot coffee, bread and an opportunity to rest.
The Langer family did not hesitate to extend a helping hand, knowing full well they could be persecuted for doing so. Soon after, while the men were still eating, German SS arrived at the Langer house (most likely being tipped off by a Nazi sympathizer with the Soldiers' location).
Assuming the men did not want to cause any more trouble for the Langer family, they emerged from the house, hands raised in the air. The 11 men were taken prisoner by the SS and forced to run in front of their vehicle to a trail about 70 meters from the house.
As the Langer family watched them disappear into the night, it would be the last time they would see them alive. In early February after the fighting had subsided and it was safe to leave their home, the Langer family proceeded on their usual route to church when they discovered the Soldiers' bodies.
According to Army Capt. William Everett who examined the bodies, most of the men had been killed by blows to the head (most likely with a rifle stock), repeatedly stabbed with bayonets and shot multiple times.
On Sept. 11, 1994, about 50 years after the massacre, Hermann Langer, son of Mathias, erected a monument to commemorate the Soldiers he remembered as a child. Throughout his lifetime, he could not forget the desperation he saw in the eyes of the American Soldiers at his home, or the dignity he witnessed when they faced the SS. Nor could he forget the generosity of his father.
He constructed a cross from the pieces of his own family's gravestones in order to ensure permanent structure to coincide with the lasting memory of the brave Soldiers. Not only did Hermann create a monument that will forever pay tribute to these men, but he built it in exact area where the men were murdered. This field also stands as the location for the yearly ceremony to remember and honor the Soldiers.
This year's ceremony was notable because it marked the 20th anniversary honoring the Wereth 11, as well as the dedication of a beech tree in celebration of Hermann Langer, as this is the first ceremony to occur since his death. In this area of Belgium, there is an old tradition that is carried on in order to commemorate particular events such as the birth of a child, a remarkable anniversary, or to remember a loved one, and that is done through the planting of a tree.
Each year the memorial ceremony welcomes a guest speaker to deliver a message on behalf of the Soldiers. Col. L. Mitchell Kilgo, who delivered this year's address a few days before relinquishing command of 5th Signal Command, spoke about his connection and passion towards the Soldiers and the memorial dedicated in honor of the Wereth 11 and all other African-American Soldiers.