On September 10, 2013, the village of Eschweiler, Luxembourg, unveiled a plaque to honor George O. Mergenthaler of Rye. Private Mergenthaler, a soldier in the 28th Infantry Division, was killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
On September 10, 2013, the village of Eschweiler, Luxembourg, unveiled a plaque to honor George O. Mergenthaler of Rye. Private Mergenthaler, a soldier in the 28th Infantry Division, was killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. In the short time his infantry was there, George made a lasting connection with the citizens of Eschweiler, and his memory lives on. After he was killed, a monument was erected at the site of his death in the peaceful outskirts of Eschweiler.
Erny T. Kohn, secretary of Eschweiler, provided the story of George O. Mergenthaler.
Lucky to have survived the combat in the Huertgen forest, the soldiers of the Mechanized Reconnaissance Troop of the 28th Infantry Division entered the town of Eschweiler on November 18, 1944 to rest. They quickly grew close to the townspeople. Private George Mergenthaler forged such deep friendships that he made a permanent impression. He was quick with a smile or a joke and spoke both German and French. He was the only son of an affluent Rye family and had graduated from Princeton University. He chose to serve in the lowest rank as a private.
George and his buddies were often invited to share villagers’ meals and reciprocated by bringing chocolate and fruit juice. He helped the villagers with daily chores — cutting wood and carrying hay to the cattle. For a short time, George, who was a Catholic, lived in the rectory. He and Father Antoine Bodson, the local priest, conversed in English and French. Father Bodson recalled: ‘George felt at home in my house. He was treated like a brother, and after a few days we were best friends. Every night we sat together, listening to the news broadcasts. Sometimes he dined with me. Out of my library he got books to read. Every morning, he went with me to Holy Mass and Communion.’
On December 18, 1944, the enemy shelled Eschweiler all morning. They could be seen in the distance, flanking the town, surrounding it. The American commander ordered his men to board six remaining vehicles and leave. Private Mergenthaler shook hands with Father Bodson and other local friends, who wept as they watched the American soldiers departing.
The vehicles moved cautiously but drove directly into an ambush. Enemy soldiers hit the Americans with everything they had, including small arms, mortar, rifle, machine gun, and tank fire. Mergenthaler took control of the 50-caliber machine gun and urged the other soldiers in his Jeep to run for cover. His machine gun jammed but he cleared it and squeezed off a quick burst before the gun jammed again. An enemy soldier crawled behind George and shot him at close range. Other American soldiers scattered into the woods but many were captured. George Mergenthaler, 23, was killed instantly. The enemy buried him in a shallow grave.
Weeks later, a local woman found a soldier’s grave marked by a crude wooden cross and an American soldier’s helmet. Father Bodson came to the grave and removed some stones. He recognized Mergenthaler’s body because of a vest he was wearing that his family sent him for Christmas.
On March 26, 1945, Father Bodson buried his American friend. Church bells rang and the village joined the funeral.
When a letter arrived at the Rye post office for George’s family, Audrey Ball, the postal clerk, called them. After the Mergenthalers opened the letter, Ball embraced them. They descended the steps of the post office with their arms around each other. No words were exchanged between them. No words could express their grief.
— Jeannette Cummins, member of the board of the Rye Historical Society
Additonal information on George Mergenthaler’s service to his country can be found at www.ryeww2.org/mergenthaler-george-o-3825-prd1.htm