Family and friends of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, attached to the 82d Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge, just completed its ‘walk of remembrance’ in the Ardennes. The purpose of the walk was to honor and remember the combat history of the Battalion. The Salm River chapter, C-47 club sponsored the event, a totally Belgian-sponsored event by the local citizens in the Ardennes, who know the history of the Battalion. While expecting about 80 participants, 180 people attended, making the event outstanding. Colonel Doug Dillard, the only 551st veteran present, was accompanied by family members and arrived in Belgium on 5 January and drove to the Ardennes from Brussels. On 6 January, the group visited Bastogne and the headquarters building that the 101st used during the siege of Bastogne. Colonel Dillard was honored by the placing of his photo on the wall with other veterans of the Bulge. On 7 January, the walk of the 100-plus participants started at the point from which the 551st began its part in the counterattack on 3 January 1945. The walk continued, as the weather changed to snowy, freezing temperatures much like it was in 1945. At each significant point along the attack route, Colonel Dillard explained to the participants what had actually happened, and answered many questions about the action. At the location where a monument stands to honor Company A for its bayonet charge, the mayor of Vielsam addressed the group to honor the sacrifice of the men of the 551st. Nearby is the residence of a City Councilwoman who lives in the same building that was the 551st Battalion Medical Aid Station, where Colonel Joerg died from his wounds. She provided a delightful lunch for the group. The walk continued down through the wooded area where a monument was dedicated to honor Richard Field of Company B, who passed away in November. Field’s daughter Ginni and granddaughter Rachel attended the event, and after the dedication of the monument, Ginni spread some ashes of her father over the field where his company had fought. On 8 January, the group visited a farm at Noirfontaine, where the 551st infiltrated the lines of the 1st and 9th SS Panzer division defenses, to conduct a reconnaissance in force to collect information needed for the forthcoming attack on January 1945. The infiltration began at midnight 27 December 1944. A German company commander was captured, about 100 soldiers killed, and a captured US half track destroyed. The battalion returned to friendly lines before dawn…mission accomplished! The 551st was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions in the Bulge, but it paid dearly from a starting force of 800 paratroopers to only 98 left on 7 January 1945 attacking the fortified village of Rochelinval. Airborne all the way…and then some!
—Submitted by Douglas Dillard, Past President