Darkest Day of A Company – 312th Engineer Battalion, January 11th 1945 – September 2015 Update
September 12, 2015 joedemadio 16 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.
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. 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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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!
Thanks for reading. Leave comment and don’t forget to share the article on any social media!