[Editor’s note: Now more than 76 years since, one of the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux community members wrote this article to draw attention to 11 Soldiers who were massacred at the onset of the Battle of Bulge. Lawrence B. Blyden is the president of the Benjamin F. Luke Lodge No. 127 of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.]
In Wereth, a small village in the Walloon region of Eupen-Malmedy, Belgium, an atrocity happened at the hands of Nazi soldiers Dec. 17, 1944.
The Langer family – Mathias and Maria and their six children – lived in Wereth, which was then under German possession, and they did not support the Third Reich’s war efforts. The Langers hid refugees who were evading persecution and death, including Belgians escaping German military conscription.
Early during the Battle of the Bulge, eleven Soldiers had been separated from their unit, the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, an all-African-American unit in the European Theater. The Soldiers had been through harsh winter weather without rest, shelter or food for almost 30 hours.
One of the Langer children, Hermann, spotted Technician 4th Grade James Aubrey Stewart and Pvt. Curtis Adams. Adams displayed a field dressing. Mathias welcomed them in and the family provided the Soldiers coffee, bread and jam. This was the first time the family had met anyone of African descent.
Aubrey explained to the family that they were attempting to reunite with their unit. The children offered blankets to their guests, and Mathias told the Soldiers to remove their boots and socks to dry. He also provided directions to Meyerode, a 4.5-mile walk to the southwest. Some of the Soldiers offered money only for the family to refuse the offer. Stewart gave the children gum, and Cpl. Mager Bradley gave a bar of soap to Maria.
A German military vehicle drove up to the Langers’ residence. The 11 Soldiers had been there less than an hour, making it likely one of the neighbors had reported the Soldiers to the German military. The SS troops, whom investigators believed belonged to the 1st SS Panzer Division, took the U.S. Soldiers from the Langers’ home, led them into a cow pasture and tortured and killed them.
The U.S. military discovered the war crime when members of the Langer family led them to the bodies of the service members February 1945. The Army opened an investigation and closed it two years later inconclusively and without trial February 1947.
The military returned the remains of four of the service members to their Families in the U.S. and interred the bodies of the other seven at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Henri-Chappelle , Belgium.
Decades passed, and Hermann Langer, who remembered the incident from his childhood, placed a cross at the site of the massacre in remembrance of the Soldiers in 1994.
For several years after, the monument remained unregistered but had attracted the attention of a physician from Mobile, Alabama, whose father had fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Dr. Norman Lichtenfeld and three Belgians raised funds to build up the monument, which the group dedicated in 2004.
U.S. Army Garrison Benelux adopted the graves of the seven buried at Henri-Chappelle .
Typically a yearly commemorative event takes place in May, but no such events were possible last year due to COVID-19 preventive measures.
The names of the “Wereth 11” are:
• Pvt. Curtis Adams
• Cpl. Mager Bradley
• Pvt. 1st Class George Davis
• Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Forte
• Pvt. Robert L. Green
• Pvt. 1st Class Jimmie L. Leatherwood
• Tech 5th Grade Nathaniel Moss
• Pvt. 1st Class George W. Moten
• Tech 4th Grade William E. Pritchett
• Tech 4th Grade James A. Stewart
• Pvt. 1st Class Due W. Turner