60 years on, the letters and prayer books

60 years on, the letters and prayer books US soldiers forgot in the heat of battle

By Justin Stares in Brussels

Last Updated: 11:54pm BST 22/04/2006




They have lain unopened in a horse manger in a forgotten part of the Belgian countryside for more than 60 years. But now, a set of incredibly well-preserved letters, prayer books, cigarettes and cartoons abandoned by American troops days before the Battle of the Bulge have been discovered.


The items were left between October and December 1944, just before Germany launched its final -and ill-fated - offensive of the war as the Allies fought their way through France and Belgium.


American soldiers of the US Army's 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment of the First Infantry Division were resting in farmhouses in Belgium close to the German border. On December 16, they were called to the front line for one of the bloodiest encounters of the war, involving one million troops.


advertisementEverything that was not strictly essential was abandoned, leaving letters half-finished and mail unopened in the manger of a stable in the village of Froidthier. They were rediscovered when the building was being renovated.


"Darling, I love you so much. I hope you know how much for I just can't express my feelings," wrote Mary, the girlfriend of Pte Lester Valentine, on November 6, 1944, in what she says was her 82nd letter to the Front.


She asks the private if he voted in the presidential elections, which saw Franklin Roosevelt returned to the White House. "You would get a kick out of some of the arguments that go on in the office over politics," she wrote. "I just sit back and laugh at them."


In another letter, Cpl H F Drawdy was told by "aunt Florence", who it seems he had never met, that his home town was lining up a choice of women for him for when he returned.


"I am your uncle Davis's sister-in-law. We are planning a big blow out when the war is over," she said. "We are going to have so many pretty girls there you'll be undecided which one you would like." Betty, the wife of Pte James McComaille, keeps her husband updated on his son's potty training. She writes: "It will be a relief when he's able to say 'mommie make a river'!"


The most unusual letter was addressed to Sgt Vincent Dieball from his show-business father. Written in the form of an upside down heart, the letter talks about cigarettes. "Mom is mailing you five packs of cigarettes which we will follow with five more in a few days for they are difficult to get," the father wrote.


"Not only are they being hijacked in Europe but are being diverted from domestic channels to the black market in South America where they are sold for $2.50 per carton." The correspondence has this month been sent to Sgt Dieball's widow, Geri Dieball, 70, who lives in Buford, Georgia. "It was fabulous to receive them. They are in such good condition," she said.


Sgt Dieball survived the war, dying in 2001 at 81.


The curator of Belgium's Remember Museum, to whom the collection of letters has been passed, has made contact with the First Division museum in Illinois in an attempt to track down the soldiers.


The most poignant letter is only half-written. It is dated "December 7, somewhere".


It says: "Dearest Sal, What I have been through is like a nightmare. If I was to write what it was like up there no one would believe me."


The letters will go on show in the Remember Museum in Thimister-Clermont, near Liege, later this year. "We have lots of US soldiers visiting us," said the curator, Marcel Schmetz.


"We like to show them they are still loved. We will always remember what they did for us."

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

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