November 1944. The Allied armies continued to take Europe back from Hitler’s iron fisted grip. Success followed success and the Americans had pushed from the beaches of Normandy all the way to Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Hopes were high that the end of the war was near.
In Luxembourg, the 83rd Infantry Division continued to patrol east of the Moselle and Sauer Rivers between Bollindorf and Sierch Les Sains. The 308th Engineer Combat Battalion supported the infantry regiments with mine removal, obstacle removal, road reconnaissance, bridge construction, ferry operation, road repair, and instruction in booby traps and mines.
Co. C, 308th, was stationed in the little town of Steinsel. To the GIs, it was a little slice of heaven. Neat, clean, friendly……with a bakery that turned out the freshest, most delicious bread they could imagine. Sure beat the heck out of K-rations.
The fellas patronized the bakery so frequently, in fact, that the lieutenant had to order them to cut it out. There wasn’t enough bread for the townspeople when the GIs bought it all up.
The people liked the young, friendly American boys and when they discovered that November marked the celebration of that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, they wanted to do something to show their appreciation to the soldiers far away from home. So the Steinsel folks invited individual GIs to share a Thanksgiving meal at their homes.
My dad, SGT Harry J. Kirby, was off duty, hanging out with some of the other engineers in the town center. Some young boys approached and with a few words in English and German, plus lots of gestures, the fellows understood that they were invited to dinner. One of the boys tugged at Harry’s arm. ‘Come with me,’ he urged. ‘My home. Please, eat.’
That was how dad spent Thanksgiving 1944, at the home of the Pleimling family, feasting on rabbit with all the trimmings Luxembourg could manage. He never forgot that kind gesture, and talked of it often to us when we were kids. Luxembourg was his favorite memory.
In 1994, we took dad to Europe to mark the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. On the itinerary was a visit to Luxembourg and well, it’s not very big…..why not go back to Steinsel?
With two other engineer vets who had been in Steinsel in ’44, he found the town, not much changed in fifty years, still neat, friendly, beautiful.
He also found the Pleimling family. And again, they invited the GIs into their home. Josef Pleimling, descendant of those other generous Pleimlings, had not been born yet in 1944, but he, his wife, and son served coffee and cakes from that long-remembered bakery to three old soldiers who still were surprised at the warm welcome they received.
At the Pleimlings’ home in Steinsel, June 1994: my dad, Harry Kirby, Mrs. Pleimling, Josef Pleimling, their son; Al Silverio and Quinto DiAntoni, also engineers from the 308th.
Thank you, Pleimling family….and all the liberated citizens of Luxembourg who made it a Happy Thanksgiving 1944 for the 83rd Infantry.
You gave these engineers from the 83rd some warm and pleasant memories they were able to take with them when, only a few weeks later, they took part in the Battle of the Bulge.