Many German POWs that entered American-run POW camps would have the shoulder boards of their uniforms removed, especially if they were to be investigated for war crimes. Don Beseler, a U.S. soldier working in the POW camp kept these German shoulder boards as artifacts of his service in the POW camp during WWII. Upon returning home, he created this unique display which his family donated to The Highground Museum.
A Long Time to Home by Lora M. Beseler
On October 21, 1944, the passenger liner RMS Aquatania cruised past the Statue of Liberty and thrust itself into the North Atlantic towards Britain. Aboard was Don Beseler and his wooden footlocker, along with 10,000 others, including nurses and Red Cross, bound for the ETO. Don was a young, freshly minted, and untested second lieutenant. Assigned as weapons platoon commander, Don belonged to Alpha Company, 424th Infantry, 106th Division (also “green” in experience). This was his first officer assignment. His trusty footlocker held his winter gear: wool pants, shirts, sweaters, and long underwear. Too fast for a convoy, the Aquatania, unescorted, made the perilous crossing in seven days, landing in Scotland.
From Scotland, Don and company were transported to Banbury, Kent (north of Oxford) to await further orders. Finally, in early December 1944, the men were taken to the train station for the ride to Southampton. Once there, the men boarded small ships that would cross the channel and land them in Le Havre, France. Upon arrival the sea was so rough that they were unable to disembark for two days. Wet, seasick, and miserable, the men were loaded into trucks for a two-day drive to southeastern Belgium and the Ardennes. Don, his footlocker, and the other officers were billeted in the homes of Lommersweiler, eight minutes south of St. Vith, while enlisted men dried out in surrounding barns filled with fresh hay.
In the midst of the Ardennes they waited. On December 16, 1944, at 5:13 a.m., the Battle of the Ardennes (Schnee Eifel) began. It was later coined “The Battle of the Bulge”. Having been in the “Goose Egg” position, Don’s Alpha Company had had an initial roster of 197 men; at the end there were 21 survivors: One officer (Don) out of six officers and twenty enlisted men. From Battalion headquarters in the Ardennes, Don was transferred out to the 29th Infantry stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. He was promoted to Captain after the Bulge. It was in Frankfurt that he was assigned care of German POWs. In Frankfurt Don began his collection of epaulets and insignia from the POWs, who were being vetted for war crimes or otherwise returned to their German homes. The war ended, and in the Spring of 1946, Don boarded a Liberty Ship named “Lacrosse”, this time without his trusty footlocker, which, presumably, remained in Lommersweiler, Belgium – for almost 75 years.
In early October 2020, a certain Belgian woman named “Pia” listed for sale on German eBay a WWII Army footlocker. It was clearly stenciled with the name of 2nd Lieutenant Don Beseler. At the same time, near Dresden, Germany, a distant Beseler cousin happened to be scrolling through eBay listings and saw Pia’s offering. Ulf, a diligent genealogy researcher of Beselers, as am I, messaged me asking who Don Beseler is. “Yes, Ulf”, I replied, “Don Beseler’s grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother.” Without further ado, Ulf purchased the footlocker left behind 75 years earlier in the Ardennes. From Dresden the footlocker was shipped to Frankfurt, and then began its long journey back to Wisconsin. Don’s children, along with the rest of us, excitedly tracked the footlocker’s journey. The children donated the footlocker to The Highground Veteran’s Museum in Neilsville, Wisconsin. On November 4, 2020, the museum emailed us to say that the footlocker had arrived there safe and sound. While it was a happy event, it was also bittersweet as Don, sadly, did not live to see his footlocker again. He passed away on October 27, 2018.
Featured Image photo credit: Lakeland Times