Going through my old photos, a bittersweet activity I tend to relish around this time each year, I came across some pictures I’ve held on to for over two decades. They are of a man I met sometime in 1993 by the name of Devon Lewis. His name was pronounced not like Kevin, but Dev-on, which always sounded so regal to me and seem to suit him perfectly.
I knew Devon in a different lifetime of mine when I was much younger and oblivious to how important his war stories were and his recollections about the part he played in the Battle of the Bulge. I ask myself now,”Why didn’t I listen closer to him?” Because now, the memories of my time spent with him has faded over the years and sadly, we can never go back. However, the one thing I do remember is him speaking of fighting in Belgium.
Devon became my father-in-law in the fall of 1994 when he wed my “then-husband’s” mother, Carol Rose. The two of them were well into their late seventies when they fell in love and got married. I remember thinking how wonderful it was for her that she had found love again after remaining faithful for decades to a man that had walked out on her and their son, Marc, when he was small. Devon’s wife of over 50 years had passed some years before that, but how wonderful that these two would eventually have each other. It seemed to be fate itself working with them after they came across a picture of their high school prom and realized they had been photographed back to back, him sitting with his friends and she with hers. Carol was so proud of her new name when she married him, she would call my house and rather than saying “Hi, it’s mom,” she’d say, “Hello, this is Carol Rose-Lewis.”
Devon was a jolly man, in the way that Santa Claus is with his laughter and his belly shaking like a bowl full of jelly. He was always in a good mood and would often tell my young children that they were his “buddies” and he would tell them often how much he loved them. He was an amazing painter, creating beautiful animals, mostly dogs and lions, but he’d also draw pictures of “Kilroy Was Here” for the kids and hand them dollar bills as a good Grandpa likes to do.
I don’t really remember what year it was when Devon passed, as I lost touch when I divorced my husband and moved away. But, I keep those memories of that time and of the Lewis’ tucked away and cherish them in my heart. I wish only that I had paid better attention to him and thanked him for his sacrifice during WWII.
One of the pictures that I found was of Devon with the men in the 394th Infantry Regiment. During World War II, the 394th Infantry Regiment was called to active duty on 15 November 1942 and reorganized at Camp Van Dorn, MS. During 1943-44, the 394th trained at various camps and maneuvers in the southern part of the U.S. The 394th arrived at Camp Miles Standish, MA, in mid-September and within two weeks the regiment made its way onto transport ships to England. Between mid-October and early November, the 394th was in Dorsetshire, England before arriving on 6 November 1944 in Le Havre, France. The 394th engaged in a variety of campaigns to include the Battle of the Bulge and the Ardennes Forest, Remagen Bridge, the Rhineland, and the Ruhr. The 394th was inactivated on 29 September 1945 at Camp Patrick Henry, Va. On 29 October 1998, the 394th Infantry Regiment was renamed the 1st Battalion, 394th Regiment, and assigned to the 75th Division, a training support division.
Through the power of “Google,” I can research these men and their accomplishments and know the history of Kilroy, but it really isn’t the same as hearing a hero’s story first-hand and sadly, our WWII vets are becoming rare. But here, I give praise and honor to the 394th Infantry Regiment and the battle they fought in Belgium.
The Battle of Lanzerath Ridge was fought on December 16, 1944, the first day of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, near the village of Lanzerath, Belgium, along the key route for the German advance on the northern shoulder of the operation. It was fought between two squads totalling 18 men belonging to an American reconnaissance platoon, four U.S. Forward Artillery Observers, and a battalion of about 500 German paratroopers. During a day-long confrontation, the American reconnaissance troops inflicted dozens of casualties on the Germans and delayed by almost 20 hours the advance of the entire 1st SS Panzer Division, the spearhead of the German 6th Panzer Army.
The Germans finally flanked the American forces at dusk, capturing them. Only one American, a forward artillery observer, was killed, while 14 were wounded: German casualties totaled 92. The Germans paused, believing the woods were filled with more Americans and tanks. Only when SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper and his Panzer tanks arrived at midnight, twelve hours behind schedule, did the Germans learn the nearby woods were empty.
Due to lost communications with Battalion and then Regimental headquarters, and the unit’s subsequent capture, its disposition and success at delaying the advance of the 6th Panzer Army that day was unknown to U.S. commanders. Lt. Lyle Bouck considered the wounding of most of his men and the capture of his entire unit a failure. When the war ended five months later, the platoon’s men, who were split between two prisoner-of-war camps, just wanted to get home. It was only after the war that Bouck learned that his platoon had prevented the lead German infantry elements from advancing and had delayed by about 20 hours their armored units’ advance. On October 26, 1981, after considerable lobbying, a Congressional hearing, and letter-writing by Bouck, every member of the unit were finally recognized for their valor that day, making the platoon the most decorated American unit of World War II.