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by William B. Ruth

Annual Reunion
Association of 3rd Armored Division Veterans
(younger, all-era group)
Fort Campbell, Kentucky - July 21, 2006


My wife Lale and I have been to Europe seven times since 1992. The cleansing part of our trip is always our visit to our American Military cemeteries. To experience a visit to the Normandy Cemetery where 9,386 American soldiers rest in a very serene and peaceful setting. An additional 1,557 brave Americans are listed with this notation: ''Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God." A sobering reminder is that there are 38 sets of brothers buried there of which 33 sets are buried side by side.

Several of my buddies rest there, one of them is Tom Rubritz, my boyhood friend. Tom was killed at St. Lo, France. After I walk through all these marble Crosses and Stars of David, I struggle with so many emotions. These 11,250 young Americans struck down in the prime of their lives. Thoughts dash through my mind, "This could have been my permanent address." As I kneel at the grave of my boyhood friend, Tom Rubritz, I plead with him to forgive me for not joining him. Yes, Tom, as boyhood friends, we always did things together. Why Tom and not me? We were only several hundred yards a part when the artillery shell landed near Tom. I could have been where he was or maybe the shell was intended for my half-track but it missed its target. These are the thoughts that haunt many a survivor.

Then I think of all the blessings God has given me these past 62 years. He has blessed me with a lovely wife, 5 children, 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. These 11,250 young soldiers in the Normandy Cemetery, times the 62 extra years that I have enjoyed, represent nearly 700,000 unlived years. With all the incredible potential of each life and each year. WHAT A STAGGERING THOUGHT.

At Henri Chapelle Military Cemetery near Liege, Belgium, I always visit the grave of the man who was responsible for changing my life. Yet, I never met Sgt. Joe Michaels. You see, Joe's half-track was ambushed at Limont, Belgium. Joe was a radio operator. I was a radio operator. Do I thank Joe for the job he created for me? What a frightening thought.

Henri Chapelle lies in a setting of almost perfect peace and tranquility. It seems as though even the birds whisper when they fly overhead. In September, 2004, I met Joe Michaels' caretaker. She told me that when a Belgian adopts a grave of an American Soldier it is usually a permanent position. The Belgians understand what it was like after 4 years of Nazi occupation. And what their freedom we gave them means to them. Yes, we both had tears streaming down our cheeks. Lale did too.

Andre Defer, a Belgian writer, says there is one thing you dare not forget and you must keep eternally engraved in your heart. It is the memory of those men who came from far away, from overseas, and clung to the ground, fighting one against ten, falling down under bombing and shelling for the name of LIBERTY. When you pass before a military cemetery, when you see little white crosses adorning the graves of American soldiers who fought in so many of our little villages, from the depths of your heart, cry out to them, THANK YOU - THANK YOU - THANK YOU.

At Margraten, Holland, where our Commanding General of the 3rd Armored Division, Maurice Rose, is buried with over 400 members of our Division, the same anguish gnaws at me. This 46-year-old General - a magnificent leader - a bright future still ahead for him - deprived from serving his country another 20 years. Yes, America was short changed.

All told 2,220 members of the 3rd Armored Division lost their lives in Europe in WWII. About half were interred in their hometowns and about 1,110 Spearheaders are at rest in these European cemeteries.

As my wife and I talk about these beautiful, serene and well-cared-for American Military Cemeteries, we feel it's God's eternal reminder of the enormity of the price that was paid for our freedom and my freedom and privilege to stand here. And in standing here, I would like to cry out to all those dear young Americans: YES, YOU WERE ROBBED, indeed you were robbed of the most sublime gift that we possess. You were robbed of your very lives, but we too were robbed. We were robbed of you. We were robbed of your love and we were robbed of your dreams and your hopes and your aspirations. And, yes, we were robbed of those precious sons and daughters that you never had the privilege to father and who would have borne the image of your greatness. And we were also robbed of those thousands of beloved grandsons and granddaughters who would never know the magnitude of your sacrifice. Yes, we were all robbed by that terrible and insidious thief called war.

All I can say to Tom Rubritz's family and Joe Michaels' family and General Rose's family and all the 2,220 Spearhead families who have suffered such terrible loss is to simply sing the words to the anthem for which those young men died:



~ Bill Ruth

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