June 22, 2002
The first burial of an American Soldier in Belgium since 1954
has just happened at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery
with the burial of THREE soldiers from the 99th Infantry.
This story and pictures come through Sharon Edwards . . .
Once again I ask you to recall our wonderful young AWON friend in Belgium who is the "war godmother" of an American soldier.
A week or so ago, I posted that she advised that three soldiers from the 99th Infantry Division had been found in the Hurtgen Forest in April, 2001 and
would be buried 6/22 in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. She said that she and her husband would attend. The following is the "report" she
just sent me:
My dear Sharon,
Yesterday, PFCs Jack Beckwith from La Moure, ND and Saul Kokotovich from Gary, IN, both from the 395th Infantry, 99th Division Co. C, and SGT Frederick Zimmerman from Ohio, 394th Infantry,
99th Division, were interred with full military honors at the American military cemetery of Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. Their remains were found in April, 2001 in the Hurtgen forest near
At 11:00 AM, the three caskets, containing the bones but also the uniforms and ribbons, were transferred from the chapel of the cemetery to the church of Aubel, a small village about 3 miles
away. American flags, which some people had put out of their houses, "saluted" the procession as we drove along.
Unloading by members of the 21st Theater Support Command,
A mass followed in an overcrowded Saint Hubert Church . . . a mass full of emotion and love, where the three families got the opportunity to speak out their feelings. When the choir sang "The Star Spangled
Banner", it was hard to hold back the tears. The whole ceremony was honored by the presence of a member of the American Congress, who gave a speech.
Then the three caskets were driven back to the cemetery, where a big crowd had gathered around the three new white crosses.
V Corps, stationed in Germany
Through the Henri-Chapelle Collonnades
Seating for family and friends
PFC Kokotovich; PFC Beckwith; SGT Zimmerman
In Their Memory
The US Army chaplain spoke a few words (again), then someone read a poem which was followed by the volleys and the playing of taps. Then the American flags were folded and given to the families.
Additional coverage: On Independence Day, 2002, Regine sent us,
Afterwards, all the people present were given the opportunity to offer their condolences to the families and Bernard and I certainly joined in ! We made some cry, a woman of the Kokotovich
family gave me an enormous hug after I spoke to her. This moment was full of warmth, love and emotion.
We stayed until the "going down" of the caskets, which followed one hour after that, then we left, thanking God for having witnessed such a historical moment (the first military burial of
WW2 soldiers in Belgium since 1954!).
We will take the pictures to the lab tomorrow and we should have them back on Wednesday. I'll try to e-mail them ASAP.
The Kokotovich family gave me a leaflet in memory of "their" soldier, which I am attaching to this message.
The ceremony was nothing but superb and the personnel of the Henri-Chapelle cemetery was wonderful, as always.
Bernard filmed the whole ceremony, and although the image sometimes shakes (his arm was "dying"!), it is really beautiful. If you'd like a copy, I'd be happy to make you one. Our video
system in Belgium is VCR Pal. Is that compatible with yours ? Let me know.
I'll talk later.
through Sharon, the web address of another treatment of this service --
that includes a history of the 99th Infantry. Click here to go there.
Thanks to Sharon Edwards and Regine both for sending the digital pictures,
and for sharing this look into the continuing grace, dignity, and honor
afforded so many of our Fathers in overseas American cemeteries.