In January and February I spent a lot of my research time tracking down a lead that my grandfather's 519th Port Battalion was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre (see my post about this award). The 519th certainly did receive the French Croix de Guerre for their efforts in Normandy, but none of the veterans knew of the Belgian award. I was intrigued at the possibility that the men might add this ribbon to their uniforms. This past Monday I got confirmation that no, the 519th did not receive the award. They were, however, honored in the Belgian Army's 1946 Order of the Day. This was an official thank you for the Americans that served in Belgium during WWII.
Although, my research did not result in a new ribbon for my grandfather and his comrades, the fact-finding effort itself was an interesting example of the study I do for my book. If you are at all interested in WWII research, then please read on:
In January I was emailed by Raf, an amateur historian living near Antwerp. Having an interest in American troops serving in Belgium, he got in touch with me. Raf makes frequent visits to the Antwerp city archives and photographed a document from the 13th Major Port (see image at right). He sent me this on January 2nd. The page is a listing of American units serving under the 13th in Antwerp during the war. If you look at the top paragraph it says, "The order awarding the Belgian Croix de Guerre to the 13th Port and attached units, fortunately gives us a list of those who were with us in Belgium during the long bombardment." Listed at the bottom is my grandfather's 519th Port Bn. I saw this and thought, "They were awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre?!" This was exciting, but I wanted confirmation from a primary source. This 13th Port document was a copy of the Belgian Army's order. I set out to find the original to a) confirm the receipt of this award and b) find a list including my grandfather's company. Although his battalion is listed, all it's company's except the 304th Port Company appear in the list. His company was definitely in Antwerp, so I assumed the American typist accidentally skipped the company when copying the Belgian list.
Raf again provided assistance. He told me a friend of his owned a 1948 copy of the book, Belgium Remembers and Honors the US Armies of Liberation, by Colonel A. Baene. This book is a civilian Belgian publication of the original 1946 Belgian Army Order of the Day. Raf's friend told him bout it, and Raf told me on January 23rd. I promptly bought a copy from a used book dealer. The 519th Port Bn. is listed as receiving one citation in the Belgian Order of the Day. It seemed that this meant that they did indeed receive the medal. Unfortunately, its listing also omits my grandfather's 304th Port Company. I wasn't too discouraged. Just like the American 13th Major Port papers, this book is a secondary source—it's an English translation of the original Belgian Army document. There was still room for a clerical error. It's very tedious typing out a list of names units (I should know). The company could easily be left out in the translation. I thought the 304th might still be listed with the Belgian Army archives.
I didn't know what Belgian office to approach, so I asked another Belgian internet buddy. Roger is part of a group that puts on public demonstrations of WWII artillery and vehicles (see their website). He has a friend that works in the Archives of the Belgian Army. On February 5th Roger asked his friend to look into it. His friend contacted the Belgian Department of Defense, General Information and Security Service, Archives Section. The commandant there provided us with a copy of some publication that does list the 304th. I received this on the 22nd. See bellow:
Finally, confirmation from the Belgian Department of Defense, that my grandfather's 304th Port Company was cited in the Belgian Order of the Day along with the rest of the battalion. However, the commandant explained that the 13th Port and attached units did not receive the Croix de Guerre. It seems the author of that 13th Port papers was as confused as I was. They did receive one citation in the Order of the Day, but this did not entitle them to the medal. Although there is no medal involved, it is an honor to be recognized in this official document. The Belgian Army decree #3254 on December 7, 1946 says:
"This unit displayed courage and devotion at the port of Antwerp by working without respite during the frightful period of the V-1 and V-2 bombings from October 1944 to May 1945. It contributed in the saving of the city and the harbor from all but complete destruction."