Battle Study # 12      

File No.: Battle Study # 12

Title: Location of First Aid Station with 101st Airborne men in Photograph taken during Battle of the Bulge
Investigation made at: Bizory, Belgium / Bear, Delaware

Period Covered: September 2007 - March 2008
Date: June, 2008
Case Classification: Private First Class Anaclete Leone Jr."E"-Co./501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
Status of Case: Active
 

REASON FOR INVESTIGATION:

A photograph that has been published in almost every book or article about the Battle of the Bulge shows several US Servicemen, lying on stretchers in a room with straw on the floor. Most captions describe the picture as an aid station. In the middle of the picture is a man with a white armband on his left arm; probably with a red cross on it. One of the soldiers on the floor wears the patch of the 101st Airborne Division. A helmet in the left foreground of the picture appears to have the symbol of a subunit of the 101st painted on the side. Although some captions state that the picture was taken in Bastogne, so far the exact location of this aid station has been the subject for a debate among historians.

 

This is the photograph:


The photograph is often used to illustrate the fact that the village of Bastogne was surrounded. Therefore the wounded American defenders could not me evacuated. This resulted in a large number of casualty collection points within the Bastogne perimeter.


SYNOPSIS:
On the online forum of historian Mark Bando's Trigger Time website, members suggested that the photograph was taken in the hamlet of Bizory, near Bastogne. Some members suggested that the photograph was taken inside the local chapel. Other members were of the opinion that it was shot in the basement of the Chateau Remy, in Bizory.

 

Battle Detective.com asked our friend Red Jans from Belgium to visit the chapel and take a photograph inside the chapel from the same angle that the original photographer used. Reg kindly did so and we made the following computer analysis:

 

 

This gave us reason to believe the chapel was in fact the location of the picture.

Battle Detectives Tom and Ivo went to the chapel in September 2007. They took these photographs inside the chapel for comparison purposes, such as angle, details of interior and dimensions.

 

(click on the thumbnails to enlarge)

    

Tom                                    Ivo

 

Battle Detective also found the photograph in the book "D-Day with the Screaming Eagles"  by historian and 101st Airborne veteran George Koskimaki. The caption under the picture said it was taken in a stable

.

We wrote to Mr. Koskimaki who in reply explained to us that he had received the photograph from a  veteran named Cleto Leone. He provided us with this veteran's address and we wrote Mr. Leone a letter asking him what he could tell us about the photograph.

In March 2008 we received an answer from Mr. Leone. Concerning the photograph, Cleto Leone wrote:

 

"I had about 150 pictures I had taken during the war. When I went to a 501 Parachute Reunion I gave my pictures to my comrades to look at and if they wanted any write them down and I would have them duplicated for them. When I received my pictures back there were less than 25 left.
I do not remember the day the picture was taken because Bisory and Foy changed hands several times between us and the Germans.


I am not in the picture. I was a Platoon Combat Medic. I did not work in an Aid Station. I was with my fighting platoon 99% of the time. I took the picture and I thought there were also wounded Germans there.
My Platoon Sargent and I were trying to get away from German artillery and a shell hit the church steeple and make a 5foot charred circle on the steeple. It knocked my Sargent down, he got up and we both ran around the steeple to the church door. The walls of the steeple were 3feet thick. That is where I took the picture and then ran out again. The shelling was over and we joined our Platoon.
I mailed it to Koskamaki and he used it in his book.
"
 

And to emphasize the location where the photograph was taken, Mr. Leone wrote under his typed letter:

 

CONCLUSIONS: Although it is the statement of one eye witness, we attribute great value to Mr. Leone's testimony as he said he was the photographer. We believe the famous Battle of the Bulge photograph was taken inside the chapel in the Belgian hamlet of Bizory.


EXHIBITS:

This is Mr. Leone's letter to Battle Detective Tom:

 

(click on the thumbnails to enlarge)


 

August, 2008 Update:
On the 15th of August 2008, historian Erwin Janssen wrote us:
"I would like to get back on the subject of the chapel in Bizory. I read on your website that you have been in contact with Cleto Leone about this particular photograph. Can you imagine my surprise when I saw the same photograph when [...] visited the Krochka Family?
[Note: the Krochka Family are the ancestors of Albert Krochka, the official photographer of the 101st Airborne Division in World War Two]
And that particular photograph had been printed from Albert Krochka's negatives. I was also told a somewhat similar story about many photographs that were lost at reunions. That is the reason why the Krochka's are very concerned about the photo-album. I was given the opportunity to make photographs of the prints, but when I came home 80% of them turned out to be blurred due to lack of light. Next year I will go back to take the photographs again but then I will make sure that I have the proper lighting. Of course they do not want to expose the book to sunlight. The album is truly an historical work of art. I have attached the photograph, which is very blurry, to this e-mail message.


(click on the image to enlarge)

 

What is clearly visible is that the wall has a considerable length and on the right hand side it is finished with a pillar. Given the length of the wall and the pillar I have the courage to exclude the Bizory chapel as the location. Incidentally, Bizory has never been evacuated by the 501. The hamlet has been infiltrated by the Germans several times, but every time they were thrown out with force.
Sincerely, Erwin.
"
 

This information sheds new light on the matter.
It raises questions about the chain of custody of the original negative of the photograph. And where is it now? Further, the photograph Erwin sent depicts the complete exposure of the film and shows more of the wall in the upper left corner than on most published versions of the photograph. This validates his observations about the construction of the room. The photograph in the Krochka album ends all speculations about the figure leaning against the wall. It is definitely a soldier. His Screaming Eagle patch can be identified. The blurry scan however does not answer the question of what is behind what Erwin describes as a pillar. Is there a solid wall attached to it which creates a separate room behind the wall that is used as a 'bar' or 'counter'? See the canteen cup and other items placed on top of it.

New leads can be followed to answer the question of this Battle Study. For example to seek the help of local witnesses in the Bizory region. Perhaps there were other buildings in the region with a similar interior as shown in the photograph. We are very interested in the result of a sharp reproduction of the photograph. We do not seek to cast doubt on Mr. Leone's memory.
Until we have proof that either excludes the chapel or establishes another location, we consider the Bizory chapel as the 'most likely' location. In the meantime the file keeps its active status.

September, 2008 Update
Through our contact form we received a thorough analysis from Belgian Army Major J. Bona, who has an interest in the Ardennes Region and the Battle that raged there in the winter on 1944-'45.

He wrote:
"Let me present myself: I am a Belgian officer (Maj) in a tank battalion and I live in the vicinity of Bastogne [...]. The Battle of The Bulge and especially the Battle of Bastogne is a real passion since more than 30 years.[...]
About the picture of wounded paratroopers in the chapel of Bizory. That picture has not been taken in the chapel of Bizory. It's necessary to have the picture in it's whole size to make a good analyses.

Why not in the chapel of Bizory:
 

  • The wall on the picture is longer and higher than the one in the chapel.
    The wall arrives almost at the chest of the paratrooper who stands just near that
    wall.

  • At the end of the wall (on the right side) you have a pillar. That pillar doesn't exist in the chapel

  • On a good picture you can see several wounded paratroopers laying on stretchers which is almost impossible in that little part of the church.

  • Behind these stretchers you can observe something like a wooden door. On the picture you can see the vertical wooden planks of that door.

  • On the picture you can see that the floor is made of bricks. The floor of the chapel (even today, the floor is the original one) is made of paving stone;"blue stone".

  • The chapel of Bizory was never used as a first aid station because very to close of the front ( ess than a kilometer).

That building is typical of a Belgian barn. The wall was used to separate horses from the cows.
Two friends of mine took pictures of the right place were this scene took place. It's a farm in the vicinity of Bastogne. But since then, the barn of that farm has been modernized.
I will ask to my friends if they still have the pictures and than I will send you a copy by mail.

I hope I have helped you in your research.
Respectfully
J. Bona
Maj
Belgian Army Lancers"


After this important contribution, we asked Major Bona if he could provide us with a copy of the photo that his friends took of the original barn. We look forward to seeing the exact location as it may have been until the reconstruction of the farmhouse where this photograph was taken.
 
August  2010, UPDATE
On July 31, 2010 we received the following e-mail about this Battle Study.
In it the e-mailer, Willi Weiss from Germany, quoted combat medic Cleto Leone:
"......... I do not remember the day the picture was taken because Bisory and Foy changed hands several times between us and the Germans........."
and wrote:
"Hi,
My name is Willi, I am a historian from Germany.
This story my father can confirm! He was a German medic and has been through the change of the German and American medics once. If you want to, I can tell you about it.
Willi
"

After some further correspondence, Willi wrote on August 4, 2010:

"You can see from the picture that German and American medics have  worked together.
The Germans are not POW's!!!! Do they still have the emblem - eagle - on the chest and also the belt with insignia. If they were POW's, they had to remove all the emblems! And they still have their bags for first aid......
The same situation was in Bizory Dec. 1944! Many believe it is a story that can not be.

These medics were not combatants - only trained to help, not to shoot!
My father has had his friendship with an American medic until his death in 2003.....
"

Willi included this photograph:

On Saturday August 7, 2010 Willi informed us that he is "researching for a book that shows the help of medics from both sides. My father was a medic in between Foy - Bizory - Neffe / 26.VGD ( previously 26.Inf.Div.).
He told me about the church in Bizory.
So it was natural that the American and German medics have helped each other in providing for their wounded.
I have many photos to prove it. Photos were made as souvenirs of good cooperation!
In Normandy there was an internal agreement between German and American medics.

In this sector, there was a well or water pump. Here, German and American medics drew water for the wounded. The first time they were a little distant. But then they smoked a cigarette together, showed photos of family...... My father has had it up to his death, friendship with an American medic.


[...] The background: Bizory changed hands sometimes several times a day.  Always had to move its German or American wounded. It was then agreed that the aid station was used as a common hospital.
I discussed all the documents. Also how and where this transaction was made. I found radio messages from the 506th and 501st - and much more......
You need to know I was researching for over 35 years of the Second World War - Western Front 1944-1945.
Also my website
(www.willi-weiss.com) is far from finished. I have collected very many documents and photos by both sides since about 1974.
Tom, I can not write the whole story - then I no longer need to write a book.
[...]
I can confirm that my father has told of Bizory and the joint aid station.
[...],

Willi"

We thank Willi Weiss for his contribution to this subject and look forward to the publication of his book.

May 4th, 2011 UPDATE
A bit late we report our unplanned meeting with Belgian Army Major J. Bona in the Bastogne Army Barracks on December 12th 2010.
Mayor Bona is now in charge of preserving the history of this military installation which had become obsolete to modern military standards. We think he is the right man for the job.  He unfortunately had to inform us that obtaining a photograph of the barn which is subject of this Battle Study, will prove difficult as it has been demolished several years ago and the Major has no leads to get a post war image of it.
 

Click to enlarge:

Click to enlarge:

 

 

 



Here we pose with
Cavalry Major J. Bona

 


 

This is in the same room inside the Bastogne barracks compound where
the period-photo in this Then&Now-comparison was taken

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