Courtesy photo by Beth Rowe|
Brig. Gen. Edward C. Betts of Huntsville is the last “known” soldier buried in the American Military Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg. His cross is in the right foreground. Betts married an Athens woman and has relatives in Limestone County. Many of the 4,976 buried here were in the Battle of The Bulge and the advance to the Rhine.
MEMORIAL DAY 2007
Graves in Luxembourg bear quiet witness to high price of freedom
By Regina Wright
LUXEMBOURG CITY, LUXEMBOURG — A child, wearing a red sweater, skipped along the green grass avenues between 4,858 white crosses and 118 white shafts emblazoned with the Star of David at the American Military Cemetery and Memorial on a Sunday morning in early May.
She was a legacy of hope and innocence made possible by the sacrifice of the men and one female nurse buried here. Many of these soldiers died in the advance to the Rhine River and in a campaign that history named the Battle of the Bulge, a weak place in Allied lines near the end of World War II in Europe.
This cemetery is the final resting place of Gen. George S. Patton Jr., commander of the 3rd Army. He died Dec. 21, 1945, from injuries suffered in a wreck.
The last “known” soldier buried in this cemetery is an Alabamian. Brig. Gen. Edward C. Betts died of illness May 6, 1946. He is a Huntsville native who married Mary Pleasants Hobbs of Athens.
She was the aunt of Ed Horton and the late Don Horton of Limestone County. Don Horton’s widow, Katherine, of Athens, said Gen. Betts, an attorney, was on Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower’s staff and was involved in the court martial of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, the last American soldier executed for desertion under fire. That court martial was the topic of Hartselle native William Bradford Huie’s book, “The Execution of Private Slovick.”
Katherine Horton said Ed Horton was in Germany and visited his uncle after Betts’ heart attack shortly before he died.
“I have friends buried in that cemetery,” another Alabamian, Ret. Col. James Glenn, recalled last week as he remembered Patton’s surge. He is a native of Blount County and now lives in Florida.
The U.S. 5th Armored Division liberated the site Sept. 10, 1944. The military established the temporary burial ground Dec. 29, 1944, in Hamm, an area that is near the city’s airport today.
The soldiers were quickly buried as the Allies fought to stop the German Ardennes move. A staff member at the cemetery visitors center said that after the war unexploded grenades were discovered when bodies were reburied. Interment of the 5,076 permanent burials was completed in 1949 and represents 39 percent of the original burials. Relatives asked for the bodies of most.
Before leaving the U.S., my husband, Tom, and our friends, James and Pat Smithson, made this cemetery the must-see site of our first week on a two-week German vacation. James was determined to visit Patton’s grave. It helps to have boots on the ground when visiting a foreign country. Pat’s cousin, Beth Rowe, lives in Bitburg and teaches children at the nearby U.S. Air Force military school. She not only fed and housed us, she was our boots.
She gave us a physical understanding of the Battle of the Bulge. We stayed in Bitburg, destroyed in the war, and she took us to other towns — Traben-Trarbach, Trier, Diekrich, Ettelbruck, Vianden — names familiar to the men of the 3rd Army.
A friend of Rowe’s owned a vineyard on the Moselle River. He showed us his cellars and told us about the nights he spent there as a child with his grandmother and mother during air raids. His father, a carpenter and vineyard owner, was in the German Army.
Glenn remembered the wine cellars fondly. The GIs raided them. They learned to search for and find cheese fermenting in piles of manure in fields.
“They hated us for a while, I think,” he said.
The Emperor Constantine’s throne room is in Germany’s oldest Roman City, Trier, established in 16 B.C. by Augustus. It became known as the second Rome.
An inscription in an adjacent church describes the night Allied bombs fired the city during the Battle of the Bulge. A vacuum created by fire raging in the church rang its bells, contributing to a belief that the fire from the sky was God’s retribution for members’ failure to stand against Hitler.
At one point during our day trips, I told Beth that I had either read about, or heard about, the Ardennes Forest all my life. I told her I would love to see it. She pointed to the mountain range in the distance.
Today, this part of Germany has a pristine natural beauty at odds with the destruction and stench of war. The docudramas in the National Museum of Military History at Diekrich offer insight into this hell from the Allied and German perspectives.
Even the 50.5-acre cemetery is a tranquil garden of green and white where mountain laurel and rhododendron celebrate spring and the beech, spruce and oak trees shelter freedom’s warriors, among them, two brothers buried side by side.
Gen. George S. Patton Jr. was buried among his troops in the unfinished cemetery, however, the numerous visitors seeking his grave hampered cemetery upkeep.
Today he is buried between two flagpoles in front of a memorial. The epitaph on his cross reads:
“George S. Patton, Jr.
“General Third Army
“California, Dec. 21, 1945”
History of the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!