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The email that started it all



Published: Sun, February 24, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

photo

Photo of Pierre Godeau, the man who found Thomas Gent's artifacts.

Dear Friends from overseas,

Here is the whole story that led to the discovery of THOMAS E. GENT's bracelet and to his military story :

My name is Pierre Godeau, I'm 41 years old, was born in Brussels and live in a medium sized village called Vaux-sur-Sûre, located 10 miles south of Bastogne in Belgium. At this period of my life, I have no professional occupation, I'm not married and spend almost 90% of my time taking care of my parents who were both victims of a stroke.

The 10 remaining percent of my time are devoted to two activities :

1: I have an hunting license but I don't hunt... seems kind'a strange... but not at all, as a matter of fact, I own a specialy trained dog that serves me to find back the wild boars, red stags and roe deers that were wounded by the local hunters. This activity is carried out to make sure that the animals do not suffer too long. All in all I find back about 40% of the animals for which I'm called , 70% of whom are found already dead at a distance of 10 to 2000 yards, the remaining heads of game have to be shot in order to shorten their sufferings.... whenever we get in contact with an animal, we consider it shall never recover from its wounds and this is the only decent solution. This activity is carried out fully for free and in order to promote hunting ethics among our locals hunters.... it can sometimes be very dangerous too, especially on wounded wild boars, but luckily, up till this point, I always managed to get out of the woods on my two feet.... and to tell ya the truth, I love it, it sprinkles some spices on my life.

2: Carrying out historical research about one of the most famous battles of WWII : BASTOGNE, my neighbooring town.

In this latter field, the whole thing started this way : as a birthday present, my parents bought me once a metal detector, this dates back to more than 20 years ago... I found lots of things in the area here with it, including the whole skeleton of a german soldier. As the collection was slowly growing, I realized that nearly all the farmers and local people of the area had at least kept a little souvenir from those days of the Battle of the Bulge... so I started asking around to get always and always more stuff, and got some good results.

One day, thinking about all this, I just wondered what was the interest for me of keeping on amassing stuff just that way, and wondered if there would not be a way to give this growing collection the historical significance that it somehow deserved, but besides the possibility, which I used on several occasions to make exhibitions in the area, there was no other way offered to me. Visiting the main Battle of Bastogne museum ( Bastogne Historical center ) many times gave me the solution : I realized that this museum was NOT showing a single identified item , Not a single artefact with a documented story behind it, NOTHING that had ever been the property of a GI or german soldier who was killed or wounded at Bastogne. Knowing that I had already loads of US items bearing an ID ( name and/or serial number ), I felt I had a unique opportunity ahead of me to give this collection the historical impetus it deserved, but those ID's had to be investigated, the story of each soldier had to be discovered... and it sure wasn't easy in the beginning.

The internet changed all that in a drastic way ! Nowadays when a ID'd US WWII item peeks its nose out of the proverbial woodworks, there are plenty of internet tools and websites to enable every dedicated collector to learn more about the man who once lost it. The National Archives website, the WWII memorial website, the social security death Index, the Genweb genealogy website for each county of every US state etc etc... are all there to make a WWII historian's life easy !

I will not describe here the many and sometimes hectic stories which I lived carrying these investigations out, one however is funny enough for me to mention it here : I once found the duffel bag of a GI named EDGAR BOLDING in the area here : my research was stalled until a lady contacted me and told me that she was from the familly, that the man was still alive and OK, but that I'd better go and tell the whole story to her daughter, an well know american singer, who happened to give a show two days later at Antwerp, Belgium. She told me she'd be flabergasted. I went there and was welcomed by famous Melissa Etheridge back stage. Having been raised a part of her life in the house of the Boldings, she just couldn't believe what was happening to see a local man, showing up there with an old rusty bag that had belonged to a man that was so special to her. I wound up with Melissa on stage at Antwerp, explaining an audience of 2000 fans the whole story, they were not expecting any history lessons, only music... but the whole business was welcomed and met by a thunder applauses. This is a very special story to me.

About three years ago, I became acquainted with a local man, Roland Delperdange, he's the owner of a small museum located nearby the main Bastogne square, this museum not only shows things from our agricultural past, local industries etc... but a selected number of WWII items from the battle of the Bulge. It's a tiny place but full of history for those who care about it. I already have a big part of my collection in his museum, which is not a business oriented affair unlike the Bastogne Historical center. Whenever I find interesting items these days, they sooner or later get to be seen in one of the museum's showcases. Roland is a very special man in the community, he made this museum in the honor of his father, one of the three belgian underground/ resistance men of Bastogne who paid the ultimate price to the nazi war machine. He died in the concentration camp of Breendonck, Belgium

On the very morning of the day the YOUTUBE video was aired, I had someone at home to take care of my parents in my place. The car was loaded with all the digging equipment... and I was excited to go relic hunting...BUT had not a single idea where to go to ! I decided I'd move only a short distance from home and hit the Chaumont area again. A few days earlier I had found a so called silver "COIN RING" in this area, this was kind'a promising and I wanted to investigate more wood lots there.

It was windy and cold, my search , after a couple of hours was rewarded with a german bayonet and a german Luftwaffe spoon ( this area was defended by the 5th german airborne at the time ). Cold and wet, I made my way out of those woods and started packing up the gear in the car again, when an old man happened to drive near my car. He stopped and we talked a while, although I realized his interest in what I was doing, I also immediately realized that it would have been useless to ask him for any WWII relics on his attic, he was a shy man, not the kind of person willing to advertize what he still has ( I'm sure he does still have things ), but on the other hand, he was well cooperative in sharing what he had seen in the area just after the Bulge. We talked longer than expected and in the end, he pointed to a wood lot ... oh boy, at least 800 yards from where we were standing... and said :" try this woods with your detector next time, there were two dead american soldiers in a ditch in the middle of there, I saw them maybe two weeks after the battle, maybe you can have a chance there"

Well this advise was not lost on me, and sure enough the next days saw me swinging the metal detector's coil where he had told me ! Not five minutes had elapsed until I spotted the ditch, I followed it and the detector screamed for good stuff ! The exploded canteen came out of the ground first, followed by the flattened canteen cup, a few yards from there , shell splintered ammunition belt buttons, the relic M1 garand rifle scabbard, A shell splintered US shovel, pieces of an US gas mask, exploded and splintered M1 Rifle ammunition , a torn US spoon etc..., some areas were covered by cut branches and wood debris and there was no way for me to metal detect these spots like that, so I moved all those branches and debris away and resumed my search... sure enough here was some more : hooks and buckles from the gas mask and ammo bag etc... and suddenly, something shining as gold and underneath the corrosion and stains on it : what looked to be some etching.

Sorry to tell you that, but I spit on it and rubbed it in my fingers until the etching became legible : THOMAS E. GENT etc : and here it was, there was no doubt in my mind that this plaque came fom a bracelet, and sure enough had been torn from the body of an american soldier who had almost if not fully received a direct artillery hit.

I had had it enough there, took my car and drove home like hell. I sure wanted to check everything on that name GENT. Making sure that he belonged to the sad list of the KIA's of WWII was not difficult, the WWIImemorial.com listing showed me his name after a few cliks only. After checking the ABMC.gov website where all the names of the WWII KIA's buried overseas are listed, and finding nothing, I knew that his body sure had been rapatriated to the US by the familly after the war and that, unfortunately ( please forgive me, I only try to expess my feelings of the moment ) my investigations would become more difficult, i knew i would not learn from which unit he was and what was his precise date of his death so easily.

During the battle of the Bulge, one of the most colorfull events which took place in this area was the 101st Airborne divisions stand at Bastogne. they quickly got surrounded by the germans and withstood every attempts of the germans to break in for a number of days : this story is known worldwide. The siege of Bastogne was lifted by general Patton's fourth armored division, which, from the south edge of the german penetration pushed northwards relentlessly to relieve the 101st. The junction between the two outfits occured on december 26, 1944. The 10 mile drive of the fourth armored Division to relieve Bastogne cost the divison more than a thousand casualties. The division attacked the germans around the Bastogne pocket with its three combat commands : CCA , CCB and CCR. ( CC stands for COMBAT COMMAND : kind of a task force )

CCA attacked the german lines along the main Martelange Bastogne highway, while CCB sneaked through more precarious roads and hit the german lines at CHAUMONT. At this time, CCB was made up of the 8th tank battalion and the 10th Armored Infantry Bn. On december 23, 1944, after a successfull advance, the troops of CCB were forced to a solid standstill by the german resistance at Chaumont. This town was the gate to Bastogne and the germans knew it. Here, the crack german 5th paratroop division gave the best of itself. General Patton has a little something to do in our story : he quickly realized that CCB was not advancing fast enough at his taste. He wanted Bastogne bad and as quickly as possible : the motto was "keep moving"... but CCB had its hands full at Chaumont and Patton was not a newbee and realized that the armored troops needed more infantry power to overcome the germans.

Thomas E. Gent never came back home to tell his story ( please forgive me to explain things that way ), but it is a glorious one in many respects. He is in his own way the spokesman of the unsung heroes of Bastogne: the replacements... and furthermore, a replacement in an outfit which played a pivotal role in the worldfamous battle of Bastogne, but in an outfit which is NEVER mentioned anywhere in the history books. As I said, patton realized he needed more Infantry power with the 4th Armored, so he ordered the 318th Infantry regiment of the 80th Blue Ridge Division, which was already engaged in mopping up the south edge of the Bulge farther east in Luxembourg to land a hand to the 4th Armored. The 1st Bn of the 318th was assigned to CCA and the 2nd to CCB. Thomas Gent went in 2/318th as a replacement on december 16, 1944... on the very day the battle of the Bulge started, he saw action during a few days in Luxembourg , then moved to the place from where he would never come back alive again : Chaumont, on the 24th of December.

His company seized the village of Chaumont with the 8th Tank Bn on christmas eve. It will never be known if the troops in the village ever found a confortable place and / or time enough to celebrate christmas, most of the houses had been badly damaged... and confortable living quarters were really scarce. On december 25, 1944, one of the most famous x-mas days of the 20th Century, E company of the 318th Infantry regiment was ordered to move 500 yards to the east of Chaumont, in fact to an area which had already been cleared of germans, but which gave the company a good starting line for a large scale northwestern flanking attack above Chaumont and the next village GRANDRU...

Sometimes during the organization of this attack, Thomas Gent was standing with a group of 4 other soldiers at the edge of an old oak tree woods, when an artillery shell landed less than 5 yards away from the group. This shell killed the 5 soldiers instantly... the shell crater is still visible nowadays and most of the items were recovered in a 10 yards diameter from this hole.

On the assumption that the battle damaged gear I had found during the day belonged to a single or maybe two soldiers, fully excited by my finds, I wanted to make a video and post it on youtube, and I did it. However, since the day this video was posted, not counting the numerous purchase offers I received through this website after it was posted, which I declined... the sad event of Chaumont involving Thomas Gent's death, became more and more clear and took some unexpected turns. Finding no Honor roll of the 4th Armored Division online ( please remember that at the time I came home I had NO idea of the soldier's outfit ), I wound up searching the 80th Infantry Division Association website, where a lot of WWII era Morning report documents pertaining to the different outfits of the division are available for viewing in PDF format. I took my chance and to my complete satisfaction wound up, after a long time, with THOMAS GENT' s name on one of them. It was through those online docs that I learned he had been assigned to 2/318th on december 16, 1944. But the level of satifaction I had then had little to compare to the one I had when I obtained another PDF document directly, and following my request, from the 80th ID website webmaster.

On the very day before I obtained this 80th ID webmaster's email, I had taken three hours out of my afternoon to go back to Chaumont and speak with the ol' man again. During our conversation, he spoke more about the killing spot... and sincerely apologized, although there was no reason... but he valued my investigations so much by this time that he somehow felt it was important to be true to history ... by saying that he had had no intention to pull a trick on me by saying there were only two dead us soldiers there, but FIVE, in fact, he said he had mistaken the number of dead men with two german soldier he saw a few hundred yards further.

According to the Morning report of the 318th, which I received the next day from the US, 5 US soldiers, including THOMAS E. L. GENT were indeed reported to be MIA on the 25th of december....I was flabergasted. On the spot, I had found several copper shell fragments, and once thought that those poor guys had been killed by a friendly artillery shell ( the germans had no copper in any of their shells or shell fuzes at this late stage of the war ) , However, I cannot prove that, these fragments might have come from US Shells shot well before the tragedy occured.

Today All of these relics are shown in my friend's museum at Bastogne. Never before in the history of the battle of Bastogne's archeology were such relics found that carry such a tremendous historical background involving UNSUNG OUTFITS, SERVED BY FRESH REPLACEMENTS and KILLED ON X-MAS DAY. I shall do all in my power to keep the memories of guys like THOMAS GENT alive.

The familly asked me to ship back the bracelet to them...it was my intention and it is my honor to do so : the two chidren of Thomas Gent are now aware of what their father did, and to what he contributed, although he was killed before they ever had a chance to remember even his face.

I 'm asking them only one favor ; there will be a GREAT exhibition on the best Bastogne relics during this summer and we will take part in it : we would be honored to stand behind the items of THOMAS GENT during these days and contribute to a better knowledge of the Battle of Bastogne. After this exhibit, I shall personnally be involved in the making of a book about the most historical relic of Bastogne, which shall be advertized worldwide, we would love to have the Gent's familly's consent to have Thomas ' story advertized in it. It is my Friend Roland Delperdange and my own personal duty and honor to make sure that such men never get forgotten for what they did for our common liberty.

Pierre Godeau


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