By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A letter sent recently from Belgium contained a surprise for a Havre man.
Joe "Ziggy" Zygmond received a photo of himself and six of his fellow soldiers taken in Bastogne, Belgium, on Dec. 30, 1944, during the 51-day Battle of the Bulge. In it, Allied forces turned back Hitler's last major offensive.
The photo was sent to him by a Belgian man who collects memoribilia of the battle and found Zygmond's address on the Internet.
In a letter accompanying the photo, Pierre Godeau said he sent the photo because of his government's opposition to the war in Iraq.
"Nowadays, America is angry about Belgium, France and Germany because they don't back up the war in Iraq," Godeau wrote. "But rest assured that the thoughts of our politicians do not always reflect the opinion of the local population."
Zygmond, 80, said he doesn't remember the photo being taken, but he remembers the battle.
"I was in Bastogne right from the very start," said Zygmond, who received a presidential citation with an oak-leaf cluster for his service in World War II.
The caption to the photo, taken by a Signal Corps photographer, tells more of the story.
"These fighting Yanks of the 482nd AAA KO'd an enemy bomber over the Belgian city of Bastogne: Joseph Hancak, Uniontown, PA; Cpl. Joe Zygmond, Havre, Mont.; Sgt. Howard Trumble, Cleveland, Ohio; Cpl. Lonie Ferrell, Alamo, Tenn.; Pvt. Thomas W. Drake, Placeville, Calif.; Pvt. Tucker, Yuma, Arizona; and Cpl. Darnell, Detroit, Mich.," the caption reads.
Zygmond was part of the 482nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Auto Weapons Battalion, attached to the 9th Armored Division of the 1st Army.
The 9th Division was known as "The Phantom Nine," Zygmond said.
"The Germans thought they had annihilated us," he said.
Godeau, a 37-year-old Belgian who lives near Bastogne, collects photographs and other relics of the Battle of the Bulge.
He used an Internet search engine to find Zygmond's address. The two have never met.
"I wanted to show a U.S. veteran that Belgium didn't forget what they did for our freedom," Godeau said in an interview conducted via e-mail. "In these troubled times, I felt it was a little but indispensable thing to do."
Godeau, of Vaux-Sur-Sre, said the photo was part of a parcel of 96 photos he bought from a man in the United States.
Zygmond said he appreciates Godeau's support of the coalition soldiers in Iraq. He absolutely supports them himself, he said.
"I feel for them," Zygmond added.
He said he's glad the American casualties have been light so far, "but (when) one gets killed, that hurts you."
He said he isn't sure if the war is necessary, and he suspects the country would not be at war if it had a different president.
He hopes it doesn't end up involving all of the Middle East.
"Nobody wants to go to war," he said.
Zygmond's battalion provided anti-aircraft support for tanks and artillery during the final two years of WWII. He was in Europe immediately after receiving training, serving from 1943 to 1946.
He joined the Army to avoid being drafted and placed in the infantry, Zygmond said. But he might as well have been in the infantry. "I was in there with them," he said.
Receiving the photo brought back many memories.
"My mind is back in Bastogne," he said.
But that's nothing new, he added.
"You're always thinking about it, always thinking about what your buddies are doing," Zygmond said. "That's something you never forget. There's a lot of memories that I carry every day."
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest land battle in the war involving U.S. forces.
"We had a terrible time there. We lost a lot of guys," Zygmond said.
He related many chilling tales of tight nerves and hardships during the battle and of his other experiences in Europe.
He recalled landing at Omaha Beach, trudging through rain with mud up to his ankles or higher, taking showers in cold water and getting back into a dirty uniform. He saw a corporal fly 13 feet into the air when the fuel truck he was on took a direct hit - without being killed.
Everywhere he went, he saw bodies and people dying.
Toward the end of the war, Zygmond was part of the forces that captured the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine and established the Allies' first foothold east of the river, credited by many historians as significantly shortening the war.
After the war, Zygmond spent part of 1945 and 1946 in Munich, Germany, administering checkpoints and searching houses for black market contraband. He returned to the United States and was discharged in 1946.
His outfit holds reunions every year, and he still keeps in touch with his fellow veterans, although many have died, Zygmond said.
He gave credit to the division he was attached to - and the rest of the Allied forces.
"That 9th Armored Division, that was a good outfit. They were all good, let's put it that way," Zygmond said. "They all did their jobs."
On the Net: Pierre Godeau's virtual museum of the Battle of the Bulge: http://www.battle-of-the-bulge.be.tf/