Written by Cmdr. William George
What are Coasties doing in Belgium, and more importantly, why are Coasties in Europe? To answer these questions, we will have to go back to World War II.
In Belgium, there is a small hill not too far away outside a city where 11 dear souls were massacred. We may not know and cannot say what pain they had to bear but I believe it was for our freedom they died and suffered there. So, I’ll tell you why there were Coasties in Belgium.
On April 28, 2018, members of the U.S. Coast Guard Activities Europe attended the annual U.S. Memorial Wereth ceremony in Wereth, Belgium, to honor 11 African-American soldiers killed by Nazi SS troops during the second day of the Battle of the Bulge.
Since this is a Coastie’s story, we will talk about honor, respect and devotion to duty; for these core values are shared by others as well. But, first, I want to tell you about the U.S. Army 333rd Field Artillery Battalion.
On a cold winter’s day in late December 1944, in the small farming village of Wereth, Belgium, 11 American G.I.s sought shelter in a farmhouse. These 11 G.I.s were members of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, an African-American U.S. Army unit serving in Europe during WWII. The G.I.s became separated from the rest of the unit after the Germans overran the unit’s position. Separated from the American lines, the 11 G.I.s were taken in by Mathias Langer, a Belgian farmer, who lived in the hamlet of Wereth. Subsequently, the G.I.s’ location was discovered by the 1st SS Division. To prevent any retaliation or harm coming to the Langer family who showed them kindness, the G.I.s surrendered to the Nazis and were taken from the Langer home. The Nazis then executed all 11 G.I.s in a nearby field. Hence, these 11 soldiers are forever known as the “Wereth Eleven (11).”
In 1994, Hermann Langer, who was only 12 years old when the 11 men arrived at his family home in Wereth, felt that it was his duty to remind everyone of the sacrifices of these men and so began the tradition of remembrance when he erected a small stone cross on the site where the G.I.s were killed. In May 2004, a permanent memorial in honor of the Wereth 11 was built on that site.
Each year members of the U.S. armed forces throughout Europe, including many members of U.S. Coast Guard Activities Europe, gather in the tiny hamlet of Wereth to help honor and pay respect to the 11 G.I.s from the U.S. Army 333rd Field Artillery Battalion and all African-American soldiers who fought in Europe during WWII.
This year’s memorial featured a presentation that shared the story of the Wereth 11. Members of the Langer family who still today reside in the Wereth community attended, and assisted in the laying of wreaths by members of U.S. armed forces, including the U.S. Coast Guard.
U.S. Coast Guard Activities Europe members and dependents stationed at U.S. Army Garrison, Schinnen, The Netherlands, participated in the ceremony and laid a wreath on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard. That is why there were Coasties in Belgium – to honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice and to respect the Belgian family that showed great kindness in the face of danger.
The U.S. Memorial Wereth is thought to be the only memorial in Europe honoring African-American soldiers killed during WWII. Next year’s memorial (75th) is scheduled to be held on May 18, 2019.
Activities Europe (ACTEUR) is comprised of 25 officers and five enlisted personnel. ACTEUR’s Area of Responsibility stretches from Greenland to Pakistan to South Africa with an average of 120 travel days per year in over 80 countries throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. ACTEUR inspectors regulate U.S. flagged commercial vessels operating overseas, ensuring continual compliance with U.S. laws and international conventions governing safety, security, and environmental protection. ACTEUR’s marine investigators gather critical information in the wake of casualties involving U.S. vessels operating throughout the area of responsibility. International Port Security Liaison Officers (IPSLO) evaluate efforts of foreign governments and industry leaders to implement the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code in countries that conduct maritime trade with U.S. ports. IPSLOs perform on-site information exchanges, share best practices, organize capacity-building seminars, and observe efforts to improve and maintain effective maritime port security measures.