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Lest We Forget – Relive The Past

Darkest Day of A Company – 312th Engineer Battalion, January 11th 1945 – September 2015 Update

September 12, 2015 joedemadio 14 Comments

The purpose of this article is to tell the story of Willard G. Meek and to reveal what happened to A Company, 312th Engineer Battalion, 87th Infantry Division on January 11th 1945. On that day A company lost twenty-four soldiers.

One of the soldiers stated KIA that day was Willard G. Meek. Willard’s cousin, D. Webster, contacted me for a possible video idea about sharing V-Mail letters with other people. He sent me a copy of two V-Mail letters which were written by Willard. All the information Webster had was that his cousin was killed near Bastogne on January 11th 1945. I thought it was very interesting to read his cousin’s letters. I became curious about which particular battle Willard was KIA and so my research started.

1st V-Mail Letter 2nd V-Mail Letter

According to the letters, Willard was in A company of the 312th Engineer Battalion which was attached to the 87th Infantry Division. Me and Webster started reading books and articles which were available on the internet. We found out that another soldier of A company was killed that day. However, there was something strange about January 11th. None of our sources explicitly mentioned an attack or counter attack of this day. [1]So instead of looking at January 11th, we looked at January 10th and found out that the 345th regiment of the 87th Infantry Division attacked the village of Tillet. On that day, A Company 312th Engineer Bn joined in to build a supply road running through the forest to the front line troops. On January 11th, Tillet was in hands of the 87th Division and so we came to the conclusion that Willard was killed near Tillet.[2]

WillardDeath

I combined all the information I had into a video and published it on my Youtube channel. Two days later Alexandre Ryelandt commented on my video giving some crucial information regarding A company. January 11th 1945 was a terrible day for the 312th Engineer Combat Battalion. T/5 Willard Meek was one of the 6 casualties sustained by the Battalion on that day…“  The case was open again, and with the help of Alexandre we continued to research.  Alexandre is a former civilian of Belgium where he lived at a farm and the mill his family owns was the scène of fierce fighting between the Germans and the 90th division.

Again, we searched through the unit histories on the website of the 87th Division to see if we missed some crucial info. At the bottom of the file, they showed the rosters of all companies. Remarkable was that A company showed twenty-three soldiers stated as Killed in Action on January 11th. This meant that they were either ambushed by Germans and were killed, or that something have must gone wrong that we don’t know about yet.

Names of all the soldiers that were KIA that day: Loren R. Harding – Mike R. Vasquez – Jesse B. Miller – Robert D. Sanders – Leroy B. Nichols – Lawrence G. Bonnani – Cecil M.  Edwards – Willard G. Meek – William J. Merrick – Norman Schwartz – William L. Bradwell – Thomas s. Durham – Clint G. Elswick – Robert H. Fisher – Leon D. Herzog – Roy H. Hilliard – Stanley A. King – Donald W. Seal – James O. Williams – Grover D. Crews – John Paronish – Roy E. Turner – Bernard L. Williams

 

Since Alexandre lived in the US he could continue to research while it was night time here. When I woke up the next morning, I got an email from Alexandre saying he found the cause of death of Willard and the other soldiers. The information was found in an old journal of the 87th Infantry Division from 1998 concerning the 49th Annual Reunion of the Division. In the journal, there’s a little column written by Paul Nessman and goes as follows:

libramont1

libramont2libramont3

 

libramont4[3]

 

After reading the collumn I started to understand why this was never mentioned in the history books of the 87th ID. The story of the cow and dog may not be true, but a huge mistake led to death of 24 soldiers and it’s possibly easy to list them all as KIA.

Thanks to M. Webster we got in contact with a  veteran of the 312th Medical Battalion, also part of the 87th Division. We asked him some questions about Willard and Libramont. He clearly remembers the explosion in Libramont: I did not know Meek personally but I vividly remember that day. I was a medic, PFC in C company and at the time we were in Libramont, Belgium.The battle of the Bulge was over and we were in defensive mode. Late that afternoon I went down to the chow line to get food and mail and noted a group of trucks on the other side of the area. After washing my gear I went back to the aid station and was reading my mail when I heard the loudest explosion I had ever heard. After I picked myself up from the Floor I rushed outside and saw this huge perfect smoke ring in the sky. Looking down the road I saw a crowd rushing toward the station. Expecting a lot of casuaties I ushered the “walking Wounded” into one room and throwing them bandages while holding another for the more serious ones. Unfortunately none of the engineers in the building survived. Subsequently I was told that they were sleeping in the building next to the trucks which were loaded with 200 mines that  where to be laid that night. There were many conjectures  as to why they exploded, but I don’t believe it was truly established.The officer who was not in the building was relieved of his command. I would suspect that Meek died in that blast.

As seen in the sources above, Willard G. Meek was killed during the explosion on January 11th, 1945 in Libramont. Still the name of Libramont was a bit vague, simply because it’s a relatively big village in Belgium. Also the place of the explosion was unknown to all of us. Luckily, the journal shared a picture of the houses after the explosion and they also mentioned that the houses were completely restored after the war. I used google maps to scan the streets of Libramont and surprisingly found the actual building within 5 minutes of searching! For me there  was only one thing left to do: visit Tillet and the house in Libramont, and share all the info I had with the relatives of Willard G. Meek.

On February 8th 2015, I did visit the house at Libramont and the Tillet woods.

libramont Meek6

After all those years nothing really changed. The building on right was completely destroyed during the explosion, except for the doorway. It’s amazing how identical the houses have been rebuilt after the war. It made it much easier to find the exact location of the explosion in Libramont. If you look closely to the main window on the house on the left, you can see a grenade shell on the windowsill.

Meek4Meek1

We also visited the Tillet woods to walk in the footsteps on the 87th Infantry Division. Foxholes still remain at the edge of the forest, and together with snow it looks beautiful!

Meek8 Meek10 Meek12Meek18 Meek16 Meek17

 

 

I wanna thank D. Webster and M. Webster for the motivation and the help to research the story of Willard and the other soldiers. I also wanna thank Alexandre Ryelandt for helping us with the research. Thanks to him we found the actual cause of deaths of 24 soldiers which was unknown to 99% of the people. Check out Alexandre’s website here!

Men of A Company, 312th Engineer Battalion

The section below is dedicated to the 24 soldiers who died at the explosion in Libramont on January 11th 1945. Click on each picture to visit the link to their page on Find-A-Grave. I will keep updating this post whenever I receive new photographs of a soldier. If you’re a relative of one of the soldiers that died at the explosion, feel free to send pictures!

EPSON scanner image

Willard G. Meek

Donald W Seal KIA

Donald W. Seal

Cecil M. Edwards - KIA

Cecil M. Edwards

 

Thomas S. Durham

Thomas S. Durham

John Paronish KIA 11 Jan 1945 Libramont

John Paronish

Grover Dale Crews

Grover D. Crews

 

 

William L Bradwell

William L. Bradwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2015 Update

I’ve been contacted by Mr. Johnson, grandson of Robert E. Olson who was a Veteran of A Company, 312th Engineer Bn. According to Johnson his grandfather wasn’t in the building when the explosion occured, but clearly remembers it happening. The accident stuck with him for the rest of his life. Just before leaving for Europe with the rest of the battalion, Robert E. Olson was enjoying his last beer with some of his A Company buddies in Cafe in New York. Guess who was on it? Yes, Willard Meek!

?

From left to right:  Danaher, James J / Willard / Olson, Robert E / Miller, Joseph R / Gomez, Lorenzo R

Mr Johnson also shared another picture of his grandfather together with Norman Schwartz and Leon Herzog who both died in the blast.20150828_200633

 

Many thanks for the man whose great uncle (John Paronish  in the self potraits above),  who died in the explosion, sent us an entire photo of A Company 312th Engineer Bn! Make sure to click on the picture if you want it view it in full screen mode.
A Company, 312th Engineer Battalion

 

Many many thanks to Dan & Michael Webster for bothing actively helping me in researching and contacting familiy members. Without their help this post wouldn’t be as complete as it is now!

Case Closed!

Thanks for reading. Leave comment and don’t forget to share the article on any social media!

[1] 87th Infantry Division, Unit History 312th Engineer Battalion http://www.87thinfantrydivision.com/History/HistoryBook/index.html
[2] 87th Infantry Division, Unit History 345th Infantry Regiment http://www.87thinfantrydivision.com/History/HistoryBook/index.html
[3] 49th Annual Reunion Journal, 87th Infantry Division http://www.87thinfantrydivision.com/Downloads/GAN-Archives/PDFs/1998-9-1.pdf
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Comments

  1. Alexandre Ryelandt
    February 11, 2015 - 7:53 pm

    Thanks for the kind words joedemadio! It means a lot. Rest In Peace Willard Meek, you will never be forgotten…

  2. Michael Webster
    February 12, 2015 - 12:25 am

    Thank you for such a thorough piece of research. We are very grateful for your time and effort and the personal interest you took in searching for the real answers to our decades long mystery. Thanks also to Alexandre Ryelandt for his help in solving this case.

  3. Dean Webster
    February 12, 2015 - 3:53 am

    Thank you Joe Demadio and Alexandre Ryelandt for your OUTSTANDING work and research in this matter. Without the two of you, Willard Meek’s family would never have known the truth about the circumstances of my cousin’s death.

    Sincerely,
    Dean Webster

  4. Suze Baker
    February 13, 2015 - 9:50 pm

    Thank you for the research you have so carefully done. This closes a final chapter in the death of my uncle Cecil M Edwards, one of the ones killed here. The family never knew exactly what happened other that an explosion.
    Again Thank You
    Suze Baker

  5. Dan Webster
    February 14, 2015 - 11:17 pm

    I just can’t say enough good things about this entire research project. It’s a bit hard to believe that something like this could have stayed hidden in the shadows for 70 years! The darkest day for Company A, 312th Combat Engineers Battalion. Finally there is a place for distant relatives to discover what really happened.

  6. Linda Odum Bell, M.D.
    February 17, 2015 - 8:39 pm

    Thank you so much for the research. Thomas Seaborne Durham was my paternal grandmother’s half brother. I have a copy of his obituary that was in the newspaper and several pictures of Tommy in uniform. One of my cousins visited his grave in Luxembourg several years ago. Tommy was only 22 years old at the time of his death. Family history was that he died in an explosion.

  7. Jane Glenn
    March 25, 2015 - 3:56 pm

    Thank you so much for your tireless work to shed light on this moment in history. And thank you also, Michael Webster, for contacting me about my cousin, Grover Dale Crews, who died along with your relative in this battle.

  8. Barbara Stinson
    April 4, 2015 - 12:55 pm

    Thank you Michael for finding me and letting me know of this discovery. As I read the accounts I had chills. & Thank you joe Demadio for the research you have done on this tragedy of war. What a loss. God’s Blessings.

  9. Michael Webster
    September 14, 2015 - 2:04 pm

    I’ve located and contacted about 33 families so far that were related to the men killed in the blast on January 11, 1945. I gave them links to your sites, Joey. Hopefully we will get some replies. Now my next big project is to try to locate the families of those men who survived the blast. I’m sure they would love to see the group photo and watch your videos of A Company 312th Engineer Battalion and read your blog.

  10. Bryan Kuderman
    November 26, 2015 - 7:24 pm

    My biological grand father is Leroy Nichols who died in the blast. I’m showing this article to my grandmother who still knows all the details. My father was born 6 days later. My father was later adopted by Leroy Nichols half brother, John Kuderman. John married his half brothers widow and this is how we all became Kuderman.

  11. Celia Howser
    December 7, 2015 - 12:02 am

    Thank you Michael Webster for pointing me to this site and Thank you for those who have been gather the details of this tragedy. I am the granddaughter of Donald Seal. I enjoyed the letter from Meek and find it sad that there were likely so many letter out there he never got to read before he died. To see the woods and to know the weeks and months these men were there with so little.
    God Bless them and all who serve.

  12. Kathy D'Alleva
    December 17, 2016 - 1:02 pm

    My Dad was one of the lucky ones who survived the blast. PFC Sebastian Tringali lived to tell the tale, schrapnel wounds and all. Every year, he’d raise a glass to his buddies who fell on January 11, 1944. But, not until 2010, one month before his death, did I learn anything beyond ‘a bunch of us died that day’. On that final anniversary, Dad and I were having lunch. He recalled the day, the bitter cold, the loss of friends. He said that he was lucky to have had his back to the explosion. The schrapnel penetrated his helmet and lodged in the back of his head. Had he been turned around, facing the explosion, he, too, might have died. After he passed away, I found amongst Dad’s WWII mementos a receipt from the QM for the $23 he had on him when he arrived at the field hospital. It’s dated January 11, 1944. I finally realized it’s significance. I cried.

  13. Dan Webster
    December 19, 2016 - 7:50 pm

    Great information still coming in, thanks so much to all of those who are sharing their memories of this event.

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