SHIRLEY — Sixty-three years ago, Joe Landry was among thousands of Allied forces fighting in Belgium, in a turning point in World War II now known as “The Battle of the Bulge.”
The soldiers who fought there have never forgotten their comrades who died there. And on Dec. 15, 2017, Shirley resident Athanace “Joe” Landry joined fellow war veteran Fred Gordon to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, honoring those who died in that famous battle.
“I was surprised and honored” to be chosen to place the wreath this year, Landry told reporter Doris Davis for an article she wrote for “The Bulge Bugle.” Quoted in the story, which has not yet been published, Landry said: “It brought back a lot of memories, especially from 1944. Never in my 93 years did I expect anything like this to happen to me.”
The annual event — attended by several members of the Battle of the Bulge Veterans Association, of which Landry is a member — was held the day before the 63rd anniversary marking the start of the Battle of the Bulge, which was fought over 25 days in Belgium, from Dec.16, 1944 to Jan. 9,1945.
Known as the greatest and most decisive of World War II, history records the allied victory there as the turning point of the war. It was the last German offensive on the Western front. Landry recalled that at least 19,000 allied troops were killed in that battle and even more were wounded, with U.S. troops suffering the heaviest losses.
In a recent interview with the Nashoba Valley Voice, Landry talked about the event, the veterans’ association and the bond its members share. They come from many different states and meet twice a year in various locations across the country, he said, including an annual trip to the nation’s capital.
Attendance varies, he said, but for the former military men — and one former Army nurse — who attended the wreath-laying ceremony this year, this annual event was, as always, a moving experience.
Besides the distinction of being war veterans and the famous battle their association is named for, association members also share another common denominator. They are all of retirement age and then some. Still active and involved in events that highlight their history, more than one of this “band of brothers” — and one “sister” — has reached the ninth-decade mark, including Landry and former Army nurse Hope Kirkendall, who served in a field hospital close to the front. Despite the horrible injuries anddeaths she witnessed, Kirkendall can recall the humorous side of her experience and tells “a lot of stories,” he said, smiling.
One gentleman in the group, from Minnesota, may be the eldest among them. “He’s 99,” Landry said.
The group’s four-day itinerary for its December trip included a visit to the Pentagon, which Landry said he skipped this time, having been before. One highlight he didn’t miss was the lunch they all attended at the home of the Belgian ambassador. But the focal point was the wreath-laying ceremony and its solemn remembrance of the Americans who died for their country in the Battle of the Bulge.
Arlington National Cemetery is one of the area’s most popular tourist stops. “It’s big, “Landry said. “They have a trolley that takes you around.”
Established in 1864, Arlington National Cemetery encompasses 408 acres that were once part of “Arlington,” the private estate of the Civil War Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and his family.
Situated on the Northern Virginia side of the Potomac River, across from Washington, D.C. ,the cemetery is the final resting place of many of America’s war heroes, leaders and presidents.
The cemetery is closed on Sundays, Landry said, which is why, this year, the Battle of the Bulge wreath-laying ceremony was held on Saturday. It is always well attended, he said. Besides the veterans in his group, Belgian and American dignitaries and others, the crowd included his son, retired Army Lt. Col. Stephen Landry.
In addition to the seemingly countless graves that dot the rolling green lawns in this park-like place, there are also commemorative monuments in Arlington National Cemetery, like the Battle of the Bulge monument that now stands some distance from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It replaced a smaller one on the same site, Landry said, “Belgium paid for half of it.” It was one of many acts of gratitude that country and its citizens have offered to U.S. WWII Veterans over the years. The Belgian people have never forgotten the sacrifices American soldiers made in the Battle of the Bulge, Landry said, and its anniversary is commemorated there each year as well.