By Ms. Christie Vanover (IMCOM)November 18, 2009
MONS, Belgium - Two Belgians have dedicated their lives to the restoration of a WWII U.S. Army tank and the significance it played on their country's liberation 65 years ago. For that effort, the U.S. Armor Association has awarded Jean Claude Busine and Pierre Deghaye with the Noble Patron of Armor Award.
"They've made a significant contribution to preserving not only the history of Mons but preserving the history and memory of the United States Armor forces," said Col. Bart Howard, a 25-year Armor officer who nominated the men.
It started Sept. 2, 1944. Busine was just 13 years old. He stood atop a hill at his grandmother's house as a parade of U.S. tanks from the 3rd Armored Division rolled into Mons to liberate the city from Nazi oppressors.
Overcome with emotion, the now-78-year-old Busine said he would remember that day his entire life because after all of the suffering, the townspeople finally saw relief coming.
"It indicated that the war was over for them," said Howard, "and that the Americans, who were seen as a symbol of freedom, came."
That evening as the tanks approached the city, a police officer recorded the serial number of the first tank in the formation. It was a Stuart Tank numbered 3047787.
After the war in 1945, Howard said the city of Mons sent a message to the U.S. forces in Germany to the 3rd Armored Division requesting that tank.
"As the story goes, the tank was dropped off late at night. There was no one around, so the Americans just left it in front of a fire station and drove off," said Howard. "The city then took this tank and made it a monument."
Over the years, the tank began to deteriorate. As the president of the Mons Auto Club, Busine asked the mayor if the auto club could restore it. When the mayor agreed, Busine promised to show the tank to the town every year to commemorate the liberation. That promise eventually led to the annual celebration of Tanks in Town.
According to the Tanks in Town Web site, the tank was equipped with two Cadillac V8 engines. However, the fire department pilfered parts from the engines to repair their Cadillac ambulance.
Deghaye, who is now the president of the auto club, worked on the restoration in 1983.
"The first time, it was only the mechanic aspect because this was two very wonderful engines," he said. "So the first idea was to restore the engine. We put a new engine in the tank. After, we discovered there was a history around the tank. "
Howard, said as Busine and Deghaye began to remove the layers of paint during the restoration process, they discovered the original name of the tank, "Fish and Chips."
Through extensive research, Busine traced the tank's history to England where it arrived in February 1944 before it disembarked in Normandy on July 2, 1944. On Sept. 2, 1944, at 6:30 p.m. it arrived in Mons at the Place des Flandres.
In September 1984, the auto club fulfilled its promise to the mayor, and around the anniversary of the liberation of Mons, Fish and Chips rolled through the streets just as it had 40 years before. Every year since, the festival has continued to grow.
"It really started with other tanks in 1999," said Deghaye. "Before we come to the Grand Place, but only with Fish and Chips not with other tanks, but since 1999, we have many tanks. This year there was about 40 tanks."
Howard said Tanks in Town is one of the largest gatherings of historically preserved armored fighting vehicles in the world.
"An event like Tanks in Town just doesn't happen. It's the result of a lot of hard work and organization," he said.
"Because of this unique contribution, the United States Armor Association headquartered in Fort Knox, Ky., and the home of U.S. Armored forces have bestowed this special honor for Mr. Busine and Mr. Deghaye.
"Thousands of people can now see these beautifully restored vehicles and experience the sound of their engines and feel the rumble of their wake, and they can imagine what it must have looked like so many years ago," he added. "By doing this, they honor the veterans of the United States Army."
That is exactly what Busine and Deghaye intended to do all these years.
"Tanks in Town is to remember that 65 years ago young people who came from the States gave their lives for our freedom," said Deghaye. "Col. Howard, thanks again, but don't forget that to say thank you is our job. You don't have to say thank you to us. Your Soldiers paid too much for our liberty.