Case File # 11             

Case Title: Wrong mayor in "Band of Brothers"

Subject: Error in Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers"

Date: December 6th, 1991

Location: Gulfport, MS

 

Introduction: Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers", Chapter "Postwar Careers", page 295 reads:

"In December 1991, Gordon saw a story in the Gulfport Sun Herald. It related that Mayor Jan Ritsema of Eindhoven, Holland had refused to meet General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, because the commander of the UN forces in the Gulf War had "too much blood on his hands. "Ritsema said of Schwarzkopf, "He is the person who devised the most efficient way possible to kill as many people as possible."


Gordon wrote to Mayor Ritsema: "On September 17, 1944 I participated in the large airborne operation which was conducted to liberate your country. As a member of Company E, 506th PIR, I landed near the small town of Son. The following day we moved south and liberated Eindhoven. While carrying out our assignment, we suffered casualties. That is war talk for bleeding. We occupied various defense positions for over two months. Like animals, we lived in holes, barns, and as best we could. The weather was cold and wet. In spite of the adverse conditions, we held the ground we had fought so hard to capture. The citizens of Holland at that time did not share your aversion to bloodshed when the blood being shed was that of the German occupiers of your city. How soon can we forget. History has proven more than once that Holland could again be conquered if your neighbour, the Germans, are having a dull weekend and the golf links are crowded. Please don't allow your country to be swallowed up by Liechtenstein or the Vatican as I don't plan to return. As of now, you are on your own."

 

Battledetective.com investigated the origin of Walter Gordon's reaction and found out that there never was a Mayor Ritsema of Eindhoven!

 

Time line

- November 6th,  2001 we wrote an e-mail to the Sun Herald requesting information about the source of the article.

- November 8th, 2001,we wrote a letter to the municipality of Eindhoven, asking if the city had ever received a letter from Walter Gordon and if so, what the city's response to that letter was.

- November 21st, 2001, we wrote a letter to the Sun Herald, reminding them of our e-mail of November 6th and asking hem the exact text of the article.

- November 30th, 2001, we received an e-mail from Alma Lewis of the Sun Herald informing us that the paper's microfilm machine was down and that they would send the article once it was repaired. Miss Lewis did attach a digital scan of the article.

- December 8th, 2001, we received a letter from the city of Eindhoven, telling us that a letter from Walter Gordon was never received. It was never registered and the Mayor's personal secretary could not remember seeing a letter from Gordon either.

- December 11th, 2001, we wrote a letter and also an e-mail to the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG), asking if there has ever been a mayor or an alderman in a Dutch municipality by the name of Jan Ritsema in 1991. We have never received a reply. Neither by mail, nor by letter.

- December 11th, 2001, we wrote a letter and also an e-mail to the Associated Press. According to the scan, the article was apparently written by this agency. We asked who, or what organization, was their source in 1991.

- December 12th, 2001, we received an e-mail from Associated Press, Corporate Communication, which read:

"Apparently, you were not the first to catch this error. The following corrective moved on Jan. 8, 1992, more than one month after the original story was filed:

'AM-Schwarzkopf, CORRECTIVE

Netherlands-Schwarzkopf, Corrective

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands (AP)_ in a story Dec. 5 about a visit by Ret. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, The Associated Press erroneously reported that the mayor of Eindhoven refused to meet Schwarzkopf because of the general's role as commander of allied forces in the Gulf War. It was Mayor Jan Ritsema of Bergen who refused to meet with Schwarzkopf."

- December 13th 2001, we checked the online telephone directory of The Netherlands as there are three towns by the name of Bergen. The town of Bergen-aan-Zee in the Province of North Holland listed a

J. Ritsema.

- December 14th, 2001, we wrote a letter and also an e-mail to the municipality of Bergen, asking of this town had a Mayor by the name of Jan Ritsema in 1991 and if he had mad such statements as described in the article.

- December 19th, 2001, we received a letter from the municipality of Bergen-aan-Zee. It said that the matter was the subject of an official interpellation in the town council's meeting of December 17th 1991. Attached to the letter where the minutes of that meeting. Asked several questions about his behavior at a demonstration against General Schwarzkopf's presence at a conference center within the limits of the municipality of Bergen, Ritsema replied:
"It is particularly difficult to to take into account all the the feeling within the community of Bergen. Also on this matter, Bergen is severely divided.  In general, I am trying to maintain a neutral attitude, but there are always moments, in which emotions play a role and when remaining silent out of self-respect is worse than expressing your opinion. Part of the the letter-writers and callers accuse me of easily forgetting the role of America in the liberation of our country. Nothing is less true. For that, only great gratitude is fitting for me and for all of us. I have never had different thoughts about this, in contrary to a morning newspaper which has unleashed a feud against me."

- April 24th, 2003, the Association of Dutch Airborne Friends wrote a letter to the publisher of the Band of Brothers-book, presenting our findings and requesting a rectification in future printings.

 

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