On Friday, May 6th 2011, George Roth from Utah, a 92 year old American veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, visited the town of Grave in The Netherlands.
In September 1944 Roth fought near Grave as a Private First Class in "E" /Company of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment during Operation "Market Garden".
Having visited the town several times after World War Two, he wished to see Grave one more time, accompanied by his niece Caroline Shelton. A tour of the town and a visit to the Maas river bridge, one of the objectives of the 504th, had been planned for this sunny May-day.
PFC Roth had been the only American veteran in the Liberation Day parade in Wageningen, Holland the previous day, where he had been hailed 'like a general'.
George Roth is the last survivor of "Easy" Company of the 504th Parachute Infantry regiment.
We will first briefly describe this company’s actions on D-Day of Operation Market Garden.

"Easy" Company’s coup-de-main raid on Grave bridge
Company Commander CPT Walter S. VanPoyk's task had been to capture the road bridge at Grave. This steel bridge spanned the Maas River and had been a vital water crossing in the chain of bridges that were to be captured by airborne forces allowing an armored army to drive North into Holland.
Following military doctrine a plan was made to attack this bridge both ends at once and VanPoyk's "E" Company was chosen to land on the Southern bank of the River Maas on soil of the province of North-Brabant.

On Sunday September 17th 1944 it was platoon leader 1LT John S. Thompson and his stick of about 14 other paratroopers who landed closest to the bridge. After a brief firefight, using bazookas and automatic rifle and sub machinegun fire to silence the German defenders at the bridge, the objective was captured.

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 After action drop pattern map of paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division

Roadblock of Hell’s Highway
Meanwhile the rest of the company, including PFC George Roth, had landed near the village of Velp, about a mile south of their designated Drop Zone. Understanding that the nearest sizable unit of paratroopers would be the men of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (of the 101st Airborne Division) and that their location was about fifteen miles South of him, CPT VanPoyk assembled his men and decided to create a roadblock South of Grave. The Maas river road bridge was already in his company's hands. Blocking the highway leading to the bridge would prevent the Germans from attacking it. On the map VanPoyk selected the bend in the main road (later dubbed "Hell's Highway" by the paratroopers) at the hamlet of "De Elft" for his road block here:

At a T-junction between Velp and the highway, the men of "E" Company took Hoogveldseweg. They were seemingly sent in the right direction by a damaged roadside crucifix. Only Christ’s right arm was still intact, the other arm (even today) destroyed by shrapnel or gunfire.

Christ's remaining arm indicated the route to the highway:
 

On location on  Hoogveldseweg in Velp, we found the crucifix with an intact statue of Christ.
From a staff member of the Grave Museum we learned that the damaged crucifix had only been replaced in the year 2010.

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The men of "E" Company took their positions in the few houses of the hamlet, broke all windows in a pigsty of the Driessen family and covered the highway from there. CPT VanPoyk set up his CP in a café named "De Elft".

Meanwhile, LT Thompson, who had been relieved at the bridge by other paratroopers of 2nd Battalion of the 504th, had joined VanPoyk's men. There had been a few small skirmishes with Germans from the nearby garrison before a tank had come up to the position almost at sundown. At the last moment the paratroopers recognized it as a German tank.
The panzer was repelled but not before it had taken several casualties among VanPoyk's men.
The men of "Easy" Company held the roadblock until the tanks of the British 30th Corps finally reached their positions by midmorning on the 19th of September 1944.
 

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Tanks of the British 30th Corps have reached "De Elft", "Easy" Company's position South of Grave

Tour of Grave and Lt. Thompson Bridge
The last man of “E”/504th landed in Grave at exactly 11:00 AM. By boat over the river Maas this time. He was welcomed by Mayor Sjoukje Haasjes and Jan Timmermans; a local historian. After coffee, autographs and interviews with local media, George and his party, including battledetective.com, were led through Grave.

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Mayor Haasjes acted as George’s personal guide. This created a picture similar to a Signal Corps photograph taken in September 1944 and often captioned as taken in Grave:
 

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Caption on backside of the Signal Corps Photograph:
Liberator and liberated walk arm in arm down
a road in the town of Graves, Holland. 9/19/44.

The tour made a stop at the old town hall on Hoofdwagt where in September 1944 the commander of 2nd Battalion, Major Wellems, had his command post, codenamed "Cider White CP".



Maarten Dekkers (Left) of the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek
and George Roth hold photo of Major Wellems in front of his former Command Post;
"Cider White CP". Jan Timmermans of the "Graafs Museum" in Grave (Right) looks on.

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Dog Robber
George Roth remembered:
"During the Battle of the Bulge, the doctors had to amputate two of my toes because of frostbite.
I was given light duty as an aide to Major Wellems; a job we called "dog robber" in 1944. The Major ordered me to polish his paratrooper boots. After I had done that a couple of times I decided that this was not what I had my special airborne training for and made a sloppy shine job of it. The Major went mad and fired me as his dog robber. That was what I had intended.
"

Across the street from the old town hall is the church in the center of Grave. From the steps above the former entrance to CP Cider White we took this Now&Then- comparison:
 

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It shows citizens of Grave on the evening of September 17th, 1944 cheerfully displaying one of the parachutes that had brought the American liberators to their hometown.
 

A group of re-enactors with historical vehicles stood ready in the next street for the ride to the Maas river bridge. George was helped in his WWII uniform by his niece, calling her his temporary "dog robber".

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George was amazed to see paratrooper / re-enactor Robbie Braam. Rob is at about the age of George during the time of his first 'visit' to Holland, but almost twice as tall.
PFC Roth then told a story about a tall paratrooper in his company who had to carry the gigantic mortar base plate into battle.

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Lt. Thompson Bridge
At the Maas River bridge, renamed "John S. Thompson brug" in 2004, PFC George Roth and Mayor Haasjes laid a wreath at the monument.

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A short address by Jan Timmermans ended the ceremony at the bridge.
It also marked the end of this report.

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Goodbye: PFC George Roth as he must have
looked during the Liberation Day Parade
in Wageningen the previous day


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