75 Years of Belgian-American Friendship

Intro: In this post Dave Daniels of Wisconsin tells of a multi-generational friendship with a Belgian family that began when his grandfather, Dick Daniels, served in Modave, Belgium in late 1944. At Knee Deep Into History we love the building of cultural bridges, and we thank Dave for sharing this story! Readers can find similar stories on Randy Gaulke’s other website under the titles: “When an American Woman Rediscovers the Memory of a Small Village in the Meuse” and “Rediscovering 1st Lt. Laurence R. “Ronnie” MacDonnell and the Warmth of France.”

Over 75 years of friendship began in the fall of 1944 when my Grandfather, Dick Daniels, became friends with a family in Modave Belgium.  My Grandfather served as a corporal in the 634th AAA AW Bn, a unit which moved frequently as an attachment to different large army units.  In the fall of 1944, his unit was assigned to provide anti-aircraft protection of supply and ammo dumps in Belgium, including the headquarters for Allied units at Modave Castle just outside the village of Modave Belgium.

In October of ’44, My Grandfather’s anti-aircraft battalion was located in the back yard of a family’s home in Modave.  My Grandfather had taken French in high school and he remembered enough to get along.  The family had two young children and there seemed to be not only a connection with the parents, but also the children.  He and some other GI’s visited with the family many times.  During one visit, on the birthday of their little girl who was turning 8 years old, my Grandfather spent time with the 4-month old baby son of the family, holding him and playing with him.  I can only imagine that my Grandfather was thinking of his own son, my dad, who would have been just over three years old.

November, just like the entire winter of ’44-’45 in the Ardennes, experienced unusual cold.  At night my Grandfather and a few other GI’s would visit with the family to stay warm by their coal stove.  They were even offered the adjoining barn to sleep in, but the barn had too many bugs.  One night, the GI’s had gathered a Victrola and some records and were singing and dancing in the house until their sergeant arrived.  He was extremely angry because the soldiers had been ordered not to fraternize with the local people.  The soldiers exited the house immediately.

A very special friendship formed between this family and my Grandfather.  In 1946, the family had another son, they named him Dany after our last name (Daniels).  After the War they kept in touch, mainly writing letters back and forth.

My Grandparents were able to return to Europe and visit with the family on a few occasions.  This friendship between our families has continued through the years and over generations.  A number of visits have been made by our family to Belgium and by their family visiting with us here in Wisconsin.  The 4-month old son who my Grandfather played with at the birthday party grew up to become a high school teacher and married a French-English teacher who greatly aided in communication and translations between our families.  Later they came to America to visit my Grandparents in Shawano, WI, and to visit the exchange parents of their son who had studied in America.  I was fortunate to be able to visit them in Belgium in the late 90’s.  They gave me a tour of the area which included the memorial in Bastogne and their family house where my Grandfather had his anti-aircraft gun.

My parents visited Belgium in 2004, 2011, and 2018 and during their last visit, they were given a journal from the family which contained the hand written names of GI’s.  My Grandfather wrote his name and address in the journal and next to it was a note, date of his arrival, 21 Oct 1944.  During the Battle of the Bulge, my Grandfather fought in the area of St. Vith and one battery of his battalion was captured.

Our families continue to correspond, now mainly though emails, and hopefully we can visit with each other again in person someday soon.  A special friendship resulted from the hell of war.  Our family is blessed to have this lasting friendship with those we consider our Belgian family.

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