Belgian city honors Screaming Eagles' WWII heroism
October 10, 2008
BASTOGNE, Belgium - Officials from the city famous as the setting for WWII's Battle of the Bulge unveiled a new monument here Sept. 26 to commemorate the 101st Airborne Division's defense against advancing German soldiers in mid-December 1944.
U.S. and Belgian flags waved side by side in the audience as diplomats and dignitaries from both nations, along with Soldiers and veterans of the historic unit, gathered to commemorate the actions of the American Soldiers here more than 60 years ago.
"We are proud to honor the brave Soldiers who've come before us in this unit," 1st Brigade Combat Team Rear Detachment Commander Maj. Mike Oeschger said. "Soldiers from both our nations will never forget the sacrifices that were made here so long ago."
Oeschger led a small delegation of Soldiers from the division, based in Fort Campbell, Ky., to serve as guests of honor and color guardsmen.
"This ceremony is so touching because the Belgian people are still grateful to my father and his fellow Americans for what they did back then," said Mary Ann McKeen, daughter of a young Soldier killed in action during the battle. "We must always remember the sacrifices our fathers have made for us then, so that now we may live in peace."
The monument, a screaming eagle touching down on a rock, was inspired by the family of Dennis McKeen, from 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Reg., 101st Airborne Division, according to a press release from the Belgian Embassy in Washington.
During the battle, 21-year-old McKeen received a severe stomach wound at the top of 'Bois de la Paix' in Bastogne. While U.S. medics transported him to the nearest medical facility, his vehicle was fired upon by German soldiers and he was taken prisoner. He passed away enroute to an unidentified German military camp. The Germans left the young Soldier's body on the road near the East side of Bastogne and was never recovered.
McKeen's daughter, Mary Ann, was just a few months old when her father passed away. She was born shortly after her father left to serve in Europe in early September 1944.
"Though I've never known my father, he is among heroes to a country on the other side of the world," Mary Ann said at the ceremony in which she served as godmother to the monument. "Through this monument, my father's unit, fellow 101st Soldiers, and our friendship with Belgium will live on."
As German forces advanced toward Bastogne, members of the 101st managed to hold onto the city for several days until American reinforcements arrived, according to The United States Army Center of Military History.
At critical road junctions in Bastogne, American tankers and paratroopers fought off repeated attacks.
The Battle of the Bulge marked the bloodiest battle for the Americans during the war. Nearly 77,000 Americans were killed, missing, wounded or taken prisoner.
"Though our troops suffered greatly then," Oeschger said, "we never gave up.
"It's that warrior ethos of never quitting that lives on today in the 101st."