KILLEEN — Three World War II veterans sat in a room at the Courtyard Marriott on Thursday as historians talked about a battle that for the veterans, was more than a conflict in a history book.
The battle was the Battle of the Bulge, a landmark battle of World War II that started in December 1944.
The historians are members of the 99th Infantry Division Missing in Action project, a volunteer group started for the purpose of recovering and identifying remains and artifacts in order to reunite them with the soldiers and families of the 99th Infantry Division.
The event was a precursor to the annual First Army military ball that night.
One of the MIA Project’s members, Eric Bijtelaar, a native of the Netherlands, emphasized the organization’s mission — to provide closure for families as well as to reunite them with found relics.
“One such example of this is ‘the shoe,’” Bitjelaar said. “Thanks to a (serial) number written in white paint on the bottom of a shoe that we found on the battlefield, we were able to make a connection with the family [of Staff Sgt. Roy E. House, present at the Marriott in Killeen Thursday], the original owner of the shoe.”
After the talk, Fort Hood soldiers and family members present were treated to a panel made up of the three veterans — Staff Sgt. (Ret) Edwin Jay Burke and Sgt. (Ret) James R. McIlroy, both 92, and Col. (Ret) Robert W. Hawn, 91. The men, all of whom had joined the Army at age 18, were part of the Army Specialized Training Program, designed for bright young soldiers who possessed technical skills vital for the country’s wartime effort, as well as soldiers of the 393rd Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division.
The men, all three of whom participated in the Battle of the Bulge, answered questions posed from eager attendees. The veterans seemed to agree that their days spent participating in the historic battle were not ones easily forgotten.
“My most memorable event was getting shot at,” laughed Hawn, noting that he took shrapnel in his right leg after being shot at from a 22-mm cannon while running across the bridge at Remagen during battle.
Read more in Wednesday’s Fort Hood Herald.