Belgian helps U.S. WWII vets realize dream
October 29, 2010
By Kevin Downey
- 2009 Bastogne Historical Walk proceeds aid WWII vets.
- March retraces defensive lines held by Allied soldiers during WWII's Battle of the Bulge.
- March founder, a Belgian WWII veteran, served under Gen. George Patton during Battle of the Bulge.
CHIEVRES, Belgium -- A Belgian army translator who served under Gen. George Patton donated more than $20,000 to help U.S. veterans visit the National World War II Memorial Oct. 23 in Washington, D.C.
Maurice Sperandieu raised the money from 2009 ticket sales to his annual Bastogne Historical Walk, which retraces the defensive lines held by Allied soldiers during WWII's Battle of the Bulge.
"We found a charitable organization that brings veterans in by plane to the memorial from their home states," said Sperandieu, a Belgian citizen assigned to U.S. Third Army command during the Second World War. "I want to give as much as possible to WWII veterans for what they have given to us."
The proceeds from Sperandieu's walk covered all costs involved with the memorial visit for between 40 to 50 veterans.
"Before I die I realized a dream," said WWII veteran Dick Anderson, from Mayville, N.Y. "The memorial represents the generation of veterans, it's not overdone. We quit high school and entered the service as soon as we turned 18 to fight for the cause."
Anderson served in Guam assigned to the 20th Air Force, 301st Bomb Wing, 16th Bomb Squadron, as a ground crew member from August 1944 until the atomic bombings Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, one year later.
"I have a pang deep inside as I visit our memorial," said Morris Fodiman, who served in Belgium with the 76th Infantry Division. "It's amazing after all I saw during the war that I'm lucky and happy to be here to visit the Memorial. Everyone should come here to learn about the War."
The total number of visitors on the trip to the memorial was close to 450 people, which included veterans and their assistants.
"It was a very emotional trip, to see the veterans view the memorial in their honor for the first time," said Sperandieu, who traveled from his home in Antwerp, Belgium, to accompany the veterans. "These are veterans with terminal illnesses or who are living alone and have never had the chance to visit the memorial in their honor."
Sperandieu, 84, founded the Bastogne Historical Walk in 1977 in the town of Bastogne, Belgium, to commemorate Allied victory and the hardship the troops endured there while holding off Nazi aggression. He transferred control and organization of the march to the city of Bastogne this year due to his age.
Last year the march drew a record number of participants, which Sperandieu said was more than 4,000 people.
The Battle of the Bulge, which lasted from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, was the largest land battle involving American forces in World War II. More than a million Allied troops fought in the battle across the Ardennes, including about 500,000 Americans and 55,000 British. More than 19,000 U.S. troops were killed in action.
Sperandieu was assigned to the 11th Fusilier Battalion and attached to the 512th Military Police Battalion in Patton's Third Army during the war. His duties included liaison and translation services, and interrogation of prisoners.
Returning to civilian life in late 1945, Sperandieu attended university then became a speculator in precious metals in Antwerp. He retired in 1986.
Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for their sacrifices, according to the charity's website. Top priority is given to senior veterans, including World War II survivors, and other veterans who are terminally ill.
Sperandieu said he selected the charity after vetting the organization through the American Legion, to which he is a member of the Paris post.
"The only stipulation for the donation was that all the funds would go toward helping veterans," Sperandieu said. "It was a very powerful experience, the trip made a deep impression on me."
The 2010 Bastogne Historical March is scheduled for Dec. 11 in Bastogne. Register for this year's march through the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux public affairs office by logging on to www.usagbenelux.eur.army.mil/bastogne.asp.
Actions regarding any proceeds that may result from this year's march have yet to be decided by the Belgian city.
*Reporting in Washington, D.C., contributed by Carl Hale, Deputy Director of Operations and Programs for the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels.