In the footsteps of the 551st G.O.Y.A birds

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In the footsteps of the 551st G.O.Y.A birds

Post  Gina_Costina on Thu May 09, 2013 9:34 pm

Every year in February various people from Living history groups from across the Globe come together as Friends under the banner of 2nd Armoured in Europe. All are united in the with the common purpose as like minded individuals to portray to the best of their ability an American Unit that served in WW2.
This February we made our way to the Belgian Ardennes to represent the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion; The G.O.Y.A (Get off your ass) birds. The plan was to visit areas the small Battalion fought and served in, and to pay homage to the memory of what they did and the hardships they endured.

Our party set off late on Thursday night and with delays at the Channel tunnel we ended up arriving in France about 0200 hours local time. We learnt that our Buddies coming from the UK had also suffered a disaster when the engine of their hire vehicle blew up. Plan B was invoked and they joined us later on the Friday at our hostel in Stoumont.

We spent some of our Friday visiting various militaria shops and then the Baugnez “five points” cross-roads Museum and site of the infamous Malmedy Massacre. The displays there are always excellent, and to visit the spot where the massacre occurred, covered in snow, always makes one pause for thought. Unlike the UK there was a layer of snow everywhere and with a biting wind it was extremely cold. Having done the rounds at the militaria shops and visiting the iconic sites associated with the Battle of the Bulge we made our way to the hostel at Stoumont and met with the rest of the second Armoured in Europe guys.

After an evening meal we were then trucked up to an area near the Noirefontaine Farm that was attacked by the 551st. It was about 2130 hours, and despite it being night time, the night sky was virtually cloudless, which increased visibility due to the moonlight reflecting on the snow around us. As we made our way to the Farm in the back of a GMC, the cold really began to hit me; it really chilled to the bone. Sgt Mark Almond began to sing some cadences which had a very positive impact as it certainly took my mind off how cold I was.

Eventually we de-bussed, and started to conduct a reconnaissance of the area. Awaiting the arrival of the other squads, it was bitterly cold and standing around just made things worse. Eventually we were moved off in our small squads, having been given our mission brief for the evening. The snow under our feet had frozen and it was hard to mask the noise as we moved forward on the track.

We made our way up the road, and we tasked to hold a position ahead of the other three squads. As we awaited their arrival the cold continued to penetrate deeper and deeper. It was hard just sitting and waiting. One of the things that stood out was how good visibility was, it was a winters’ night in a forest, and yet I could see the rest of my squad for some distance, sat around the area. It contrasted so differently when in June some 8 months before, we did a similar night patrol and could not see buddies further than a foot or so away.

Private Dan O’Dwyer outlined by the snow covered background

Private Shaun Bradley looks towards a road, ready to give covering fire

The squads moved forward and eventually we passed the Noirefontaine farm nestled down a slope away from us. A couple of squads made their way down to check out the farm whilst we held our positions. On their return we made our way down to the trail to await the arrival of the truck to take us back to the hostel. Have to say this was unique experience, I’m guessing we travelled about 3 miles, but it took time to cover this distance and we eventually made our way to the hostel at about 0100 hours. My main memory of the evening was the relentless cold, and the unusual visibility.

The next day we got up at 0600 to make our way to the start point of the days march. We were going to follow the exact routes taken by the various companies of the 551st during December 1944 and January 1945. This meant that we wouldn’t be with all the other participants in the day’s events. But it would give us the chance to go to all the areas the 551st had been and engaged with the enemy. My one memory of the day was the relentless cold. So bitter it penetrated deeply and really hurt if we stood around for too long. I can only imagine what those soldiers went through all those years ago.

Throughout the day we visited various locations, get many miles covered, but the march being aggravated by the snow and ice underfoot.

The Road

The snow hit harder

River crossing

Resting at the “sunken Lane”

The Hill

On the road to the rear

Waiting to be relieved and return to the rear

With 551st Veteran Richard Field (Centre) and Vietnam Vet Gene Garren. This photo was taken at Dairemont the same location that Richard helped his buddy Marshall Clay who had been wounded some 70 years earlier. Richard was given one of our D Bars which he seemed to enjoy! Gene paid us a compliment that we actually looked the part, which is always nice to hear; that our efforts create the correct impression.

551st memorial

Ray Fary and Richard Field at the 551st Memorial

Victory Beer at marches conclusion

Mail Call!

The evening social with all those who are involved in the annual event is another not to be missed part of our trips. It’s something I look forward as well as all the other highs and lows I know these type of events provide. As I write this brief report I’m now looking forward to my next event where we walking in the footsteps of the 17th Airborne!


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Re: In the footsteps of the 551st G.O.Y.A birds

Post  samharris45 on Thu May 09, 2013 11:31 pm

Thanks for sharing! Like it allot to see units done that are off the books so to speak!

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