(texst Roland Gaul)
The earlier war Years: a Number of people of Bettendorf/Moestroff died in Concentration camps or as forced conscripts on the frontlines of WWII
September 11-12, 1944: retreating German units had some skirmishes with pursuing US soldiers close to the Our river
December 16, 1944: Beginning of the “Bulge”. The US forces of the 3rd Bn, 109th Rgt, 28th Inf. Div resist for 2 days, then had to withdraw. Numerous American and German soldiers lost their lives in the woods above Bettendorf and Moestroff. Most of the population fled – some stayed during the second occupation by German troops
Early January 1945: In preparation for the massive US counterattack from the south after Bastogne had been secured to liquidate the “Bulge”, Gen Patton’s Third Army created a new corps, primarily consisting of the 4th and 5th US Inf Div to create a defensive line in the Sauer river valley to be used later as a jump-off line during the ensuing river crossing operations.
Jan 18-21, 1945: Sauer river crossing., Fighting in Bettendorf and Moestroff. Recapturing of the two villages and withdrawal of the German units across the Our river to the “Westwall.
IT WAS DURING THIS Jan 18-21, 1945 Sauer river crossing that a young PFC, VINCENT FESTA, member of “G” company, 8th Inf Rgt., 4th Inf Div, participated as a foot soldier in the tough fighting to recapture the north part of the village of Moestroff. As a native Pennsylvanian, he answered the call of duty and was sent to Europe with ten thousands of fellow GIs to help liberated Europe. After his unit’s progress thru France, they were sent up north to the Belgian-German borderlands to participate# in the horrendous battle of Huertgen forest south of Aachen. The division suffered enormous casualties and was relocated back to Luxembourg – the quiet sector to rest and for being rebuilt. They were assigned to the Echternach-Berdorf- Rosport sector, when all hell broke loose by surprise of Dec 16, 1944, when the German army launched its last gamble offensive, known as the “Bulge”. Days of tough combat followed, but the units of the 4th Inf. Div held and denied the attacking German forces from capturing vital road networks. The Bulge continued to rage in the Belgian Ardennes and Bastogne and St. Vith became priority hotspots for the US units to hold. With the arrival of Gen. Patton’s Third Army from the Metz area to liberate Bastogne, a new Corps – the XII Th US Corps was created to hold the southern shoulder. It consisted primarily of the 4th and 5th Inf Div, which were assigned to the line Diekirch-Gilsdorf-Bettendorf-Moestroff-Wallendorf- Dillingen. On Jan 18, 1945 – TODAY EXACTLY 75 years ago – Gen. Patton ordered the two divisions to counterattack, cross the Sauer river, cut the German troops off and drive them back to their initial lines and across the Our river. It was bitter cold. Snow in the terrain was knee-deep. Numerous GIs suffered from trenchfoot and frostbite -but they fought with determination. As one of the main attacking forces, VINCENT FESTA’s 8th Inf Rgt had been assigned to capture Moestroff up to Reisdorf. His “G” company had been billeted earlier in Eppeldorf and had undertaken a number of recon. Mission prior to the crossing. It was a pitch-black night, very cold – minus 23 degrees Celsius, when as of 3:oo a.m. the men without artillery preparation were hand-carrying the assault boats draped in white linen to the banks of the Sure river, crossing the south part of Moestroff unoccupied by the Germans. They had barely reached the meadows leading to the river when flares went up and machine guns began tearing into their rows. All hell broke loose. Sounds of automatic weapons, shells and mines going off, men screaming, as they shoved the boats into the river and started paddling against the current. A number of boats got hit by mortar shells, the men drowned. Vincent Festa got to the opposite banks unharmed and participated in a first attack on the houses in Moestroff. Fierce house to house combat developed and continued the entire days of Jan 18, 1945. American artillery brough some relief, but the German troops were well dug in and were supported by rocket and artillery fire from the “Westwall”. A serious problem developed in the American lines. Men who got wounded on the north parts of Moestroff had to be evacuated to the south banks across the in boats again, until the engineers had constructed a treadway bridge on Jan 19, 1945. Men also had to be supplied with ammunition and food rations. Combat continued all along the 19th of January, when it came to deadly house to house combat. The American units made some progress – their target was to take the village and then progress further uphill towards the Our river and dislocate the Germans from their dugouts in the woods.
We do not know the hour nor the circumstances on January 20, 1945, when VINCENT FESTA was killed in action in Moestroff or died on that date as a result of serious wounds received. We only know that his young life ended on January 20, 1945 in or around Moestroff. He died helping liberate Luxembourg and gave his life – like so many others – to put an end to oppression and tyranny. He was survived by his wife back in Pennsylvania and two you sons, both present here today, James (Jim) and Robert (Bob). Vincent was buried at the provisional cemetery of Hamm and received a final burial in 1948. We will never forget his sacrifice