STAFF SERGEANT THOMAS J. FORTE
TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE WILLIAM EDWARD PRITCHETT
TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE JAMES A. STEWART
CORPORAL MAGER BRADLEY
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GEORGE DAVIS
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JAMES L. LEATHERWOOD
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GEORGE W. MOTEN
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS DUE W. TURNER OF ARKANSAS
PRIVATE CURTIS ADAMS
PRIVATE ROBERT GREEN
PRIVATE NATHANIAL MOSS
Recently I was asked to provide closing remarks at the end of an event where a documentary honoring the memory of the Wereth Eleven was shown. Before being asked to participate, I had never heard of this tragic event in American World War II history. Below are my remarks:
Today we honor the memory of these courageous Americans!
We honor the Langer family for their love, kindness, and courage in the face of grave danger. As you can imagine, they didn’t see eleven sub-humans, as they were considered in their own homeland, but they saw eleven men in need of safety and hospitality. Even more, they sought to remember them for eternity even though their paths only crossed for but a few hours. (http://www.wereth.org/en/home)
We are grateful to Master Sergeant (Retired) Rob Wilkens for his research and USA TODAY reporter Jim Michaels for taking the story to an even wider audience with the article he wrote in November 2013. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/07/wereth-black-soldiers-battle-of-bulge-army-world-war-ii-history/3465059/)
We owe gratitude to former U.S. Representatives Jim Gerlach and Chaka Fattah (both from Pennsylvania) for introducing a Resolution to the Senate Armed Services Committee to revise a 1949 report to appropriately recognize the Wereth Eleven massacre. You see, the original report documented a dozen similar massacres during the battle of the bulge, but did not include any reference to the killings in Wereth. (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-concurrent-resolution/141)
We thank the administrators of the U.S. Memorial Wereth, specifically, Ms. Solange Dekeyser, for her tireless efforts to keep the memorial as a visible reminder to current and future generations. (http://www.wereth.org/en/home)
Quite frankly, like many, I’d never heard of the Wereth 11. I am a recent convert to the study of American history in World War II. My conversion took place 6 years ago on a staff ride to Normandy where my curiosity drove me to wonder about the logistics feat it took to sustain D-day and other ensuing battles. During that tour, I marveled at the youth of the men who fought and died in those battles and have since made it a point to visit some of the cemeteries and memorials in Europe where American service members are buried.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m familiar with many of the more popular stories; the Tuskegee Airmen, the massacre at Sant’anna di Stazzema in Tuscany, Italy, and many others that have had a visible place in our history.
But this story really hits you hard. Maybe it’s the gruesome pictures the photographer took after the snow had melted in January 1945 when the bodies were discovered; maybe it’s the human depravity that led to such hatred of those men and what they represented enough to not just murder them but torture and maim them beforehand; maybe it’s the 50-years the families suffered and mourned in silence as others were acknowledged and celebrated and their loved ones left out. Whatever the reason, this story tugs at our heartstrings.
Have you ever felt ignored? Ever been in a meeting and felt like your voice wasn’t being heard? Ever felt like no one would understand your point of view? A very lonely place to be isn’t it?
As I pondered this story and what I’d been asked to talk about, it dawned on me how much richer we become as a culture when we hear others’ stories. How much deeper friendships get when we try to understand better and how much we learn when we listen to a different team member’s perspective.
So, what’s the takeaway or what do we learn from the story of the Wereth Eleven?
- You should learn that each of the over 400,000 service members who died in World War II has a story that deserves to be told and a life that should be honored. Why? Because all gave some, and some gave all. And because of that fact, the invisible, like the Wereth 11, became visible.
- You should learn from a quote by Frederick Douglas: “For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others.” The Wereth Eleven knew the value of freedom. They were only three generations removed from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. They surrendered that day in December because by doing so, they would spare the lives of the Langer family that harbored them.
- If you’re a military leader, you should learn the importance of fostering a unit culture and environment that is strengthened by the inherent diversity of an all-volunteer force. The diversity of thought, background, upbringing, race, gender, and creed. Those individual stories and perspectives provide leaders every possible input and consideration to make the best decision for our mission.
- And finally, you should learn to dare as the Roman philosopher and Statesman, “Seneca” once said:
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”
Dare to make a difference with no desire for recognition!
Dare to excel without fear of it not counting!
Dare to give…for it is better to do so than to receive!
Dare to leave a legacy…for you are descendants of a great one!
Thank you for remembering the Wereth Eleven!