Gerald E. Sorensen
A Belgian and a Yank become Brothers in Death
The following story was dispatched from Enghien, Belgium, October 23, by L.S.B. Shapiro of the North American Newspaper Alliance. We reprint it from the Pittsburgh Press.
It's a long way from Pocatello, Idaho to Enghien, Belgium. A long way in miles and mentality. Yet such is the nature of this war under a single standard of freedom that the town-folk of Enghien have a vivid awareness of brotherhood of the people of Pocatello.
Enlightened statesmen have long sought to create a bond that would span the oceans and the plains from teeming Europe to deep America. This is the story of how that miracle was accomplished by an American sergeant.
He knew nothing about international politics, but he possessed a sure instinct for humanity. And though he lies in a Belgium grave, the nature of his death brims with the American idea of chivalry and duty.
Staff Sgt. Gerald E. Sorensen was waist gunner in a Flying Fortress. He was a quiet youth of 24 who didn't talk much about the 28 missions he had flown over enemy territory. The only time he found any enthusiasm for talking was when he discussed with his shipmates the end of his tour of operations-he had three more to go-and then perhaps a furlough back to Pocatello.
Around the station, they always regarded Jerry as a strange character. He didn't drink or use cuss words; he was deeply religious. And he was a first-class waist gunner.
SHIP CATCHES IT
Jerry's ship "caught it" on the twenty ninth mission. That was during the first week of July. The fort was rocked by flak all the way from Berlin to Dusseldorf on the return journey-and somewhere over Belgium the men bailed out. Jerry dropped into a thick forest and found himself alone. He wandered for two days living on chocolate and benzedrine, until he was picked up by a patrol of Belgium's "Armee Blanche", the secret force of young patriots sworn to the destruction of the German oppressor.
In the patrol was a 20 year old youth named Roger Abeels. Jerry spoke nothing but English; Roger knew only French and Flemish. But they liked each other the moment they met, and when the patrol crawled out of the woods under cover of darkness, Roger took Jerry to his home.
NAMES SISTER "PEST"
For two months Jerry hid in the Abeels household. Roger's civilian clothes fitted him well, and Roger's father, mother and sister grew to look upon Jerry as their second son and brother. After a while, Jerry began to pick up a smattering of French, and his Idaho pronunciation of it produced peals of laughter each evening in the modest Abeels living room. Often the father would press Jerry's arm and say how sorry they would be when the time came for him to leave.
The Abeel's 18 year old daughter, Monique was nicknamed "pest" by Jerry
because she was always fluttering around when ne and Roger were discussing
the war or sports or cleaning Roger's hidden Sten gun. She reveled in the
name because she didn't know its meaning.
THE BRITISH APPROACH
So the summer sped by and Jerry had become a member of the family and Roger's inseparable companion. Each night the family gathered in the cellar to hear the British radio, and they traced the approach of the British armies toward Brussels with breathless enthusiasm. Then came Saturday, September 2. After dark, that evening a messenger from the "Armee Blanche" dashed into the house with great news.
British tanks were that night leaving Tournai, on the Franco-Belgium border, and heading straight for Brussels. After four years, liberation was almost at hand. Roger was ordered to report to his company headquarters in the woods at six o'clock the next morning: the "Armee Blanche" was going into open action against the enemy.
Mother Abeels cried a little as she dusted off Roger's secret uniform-a white coverall with an armband of black, red, and gold. Roger oiled his Sten gun and Jerry tested its mechanism. It was a bittersweet evening; Mother Abeels continually cautioning Roger to be careful and Papa Abeels recounting endless stories of liberation in the 1918.
ALL GET UP EARLY
At 5 the next morning the entire household was awake. Mama Abeels and Monique were preparing breakfast. Papa Abeels was trying to pickup radio news. Roger came downstairs in his white coverall, Jerry followed later. The American wore his leather flying jacket and his Colt hung from his pistol belt. "I'm going out with Roger," He announced as he sat down to breakfast.
"Not you," cried Papa Abeels. "You have no right, no duty to fight this day. This is a Belgian affair, is it not? You have done your full duty, all anyone can ask. Besides, you have become our second son. We beg you, wait here for a few hours and then you will be safe."
BUT JERRY GOES
My frantic plea was wasted, "if Roger goes, I go," Jerry said. "If it's his war, it's my war. Anyway, we're pals -- I wouldn't let him go in there without me. I figure I can take care of him a lot better than he can take care of himself." This he spoke in broken French augmented with many gestures.
They finished breakfast and darted away from the house.
Early that afternoon - Sept. 3 - a column of British tanks, rolling some six miles southwest of Enghien, was halted by a German battle group of Tiger tanks and infantry covering the highway. As the action began for possession of the highway, the Germans found themselves attacked from the rear by a company of Belgian irregulars.
The battle was short and fierce. Within half an hour, the British tanks had smashed through and were racing toward Brussels.
BURIED SIDE BY SIDE
The next day a British division mopping up on the flanks discovered a cluster of German and Belgian bodies in a wood off the highway. Laying side by side were Roger Abeels and Jerry Sorensen.
They were buried side by side and at the head of their graves were placed the crossed flags of the United States and Belgium.
Papa and Mother Abeels and "Pest" take fresh flowers almost every day.
Standing there, I heard the story.
Note: Gerald E. Sorensen was a descendant of John Cope Dean and Elizabeth Howard through Luella Dean who married Ephriam Sorensen.
Gerald E. Sorensen