BASTOGNE, Belgium -- Seventy-five years ago in Bastogne, Belgium, German soldiers captured American Pfc. Marold Peterson of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division.
Peterson escaped from the work camp where we was held prisoner, only to be captured again and killed by Hitler Youth.
Sgt. Travis Paice, the great-grandson of Peterson, said it is surreal to be in Bastogne where Peterson lived his last moments.
"Maybe he was standing right where I stood," Paice, a Soldier with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, said.
Paice is one Soldier with family ties to the World War II Battle of the Bulge who participated in the 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies and parade. Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, is another.
Jones' great-uncle Ed Jones was a Sherman tanker with the 10th Armored Division during World War II. While Jones is unsure of his great-uncle's rank, he heard stories growing up about his service from his father and uncle. During the Battle of the Bulge, three of Ed Jones' tanks took extreme damage. On his last time evacuating a Sherman tank, he took shrapnel from a German stick grenade in his leg and was captured as a prisoner of war. He was missing for about four months until a Canadian HAM radio operator intercepted a message from the Germans including the locations of POWs from both American and allied forces.
"It's amazing to feel like I am walking in his footsteps," said Jones of walking through the streets where his great uncle served. "To see Bastogne and where he was is a sobering feeling."
On December 14, 2019, American and Belgian Soldiers, along with members of the Bastogne community and World War II veterans, marched in a parade through the town center. Guests of honor, including Prime Minister of Belgium Sophie Wilmes, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz threw walnuts from the balcony of the Bastogne City Center into the crowd. The nut throwing, or "Jet de Noix," commemorates Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's famous response of "Nuts" when petitioned by the Germans to surrender.
Both Jones and Paice said they felt a great sense of pride knowing their unit has lineage to World War II and the Battle of the Bulge.
Paice had the opportunity to fly his great grandfather's flag at the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne. He plans on gifting the flag to his grandfather, who is also a veteran.
Before arriving in Bastogne, Paice was given documents by the Army which provided an account of his great grandfather's capture. He brought these documents with him as a reminder of what his family had endured. While Paice said the documents do not go into much detail, it is just enough to be harrowing.
"I never knew him, and my grandfather never knew him, but to get, somewhat, a little bit of closure was a little surreal," Paice said.
Paice said the most emotional part of his great grandfather's history is knowing that American Soldiers liberated the prisoner camp Stalag IX-B, also known as Bad Orb, the day after he was killed in his effort to escape.
According to Army documents, Soldiers in that prison were starved, with many men weighing only between 70 to 80 pounds when they were rescued.
As Soldiers lined up to prepare for the parade, there was a mixture of snow, rain and harsh winds as temperatures dropped, but participants acknowledged that was nothing compared to what Soldiers who had gone before them endured.
Jones said if he could say something to his great uncle, it would be "thank you."
"Thank you for paving the way for us and giving everything for our values, our freedoms and our allies' freedoms," Jones said in heartfelt appreciation to both is late great uncle and veterans of World War II.