First in Belgium ! – The story of the very first GIs who entered Belgium on 2 Sept. 1944

On 2 September 1944, orders are issued to the different regimental command posts. 60th R.C.T. is composed of 60th Infantry Regiment, 60th Field Artillery Battalion, Baker Co. 746th Tank Battalion and Baker Co. 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less 2nd Platoon attached to 47th R.C.T. but reinforced by the Reconnaissance Platoon from the HQ Company). These units spent the night in various locations on a line coming from Rozoy-sur-Serre to Aubenton. At 0600hrs, the three R.C.T. are ordered to move, and the 60th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Jesse L. Gibney, has to continue its advance north and cross the Belgian border. Marching order is 1st Battalion on the left (Major Gail H. Brown) and has to take the village of Macon, followed by 2nd Battalion (Major Matt Urban); and on the right, the 3rd Battalion (Lt. Col. Keene N. “Slick” Wilson) has to advance north to secure Chimay by the end of the day.

002Col. Jesse L. Gibney, CO of 60th Infantry Regiment

At the front of the 1st Battalion, Able Company is leading. The infantry is transported in trucks and are preceded by the 3rd Platoon, 9th Reconnaissance Troop, that has performed a first reconnaissance the previous evening. The impressive column made of M8 Armored Cars, Jeeps and trucks leaves Brunehamel and hits the road toward Belgium. Intelligence coming from the division headquarters confirms that the way is clear up to Belgium, but that nothing is granted once the border crossed. The column rides quite fast and take the road D5 up to Aubenton where 1st and 2nd Battalions meet 3rd Battalion that was ready to move up as well toward Signy-le-Petit.

It’s few minutes before 0800hrs this morning of the 2nd September, and the very first vehicles arrive at Grand Riaux, small hamlet north of Neuville-aux-Joutes. They stop in front of the customs cafe, held by a certain Hermance Doly. Officers of the battalion enter the cafe, among them: Lieutenant James F. Harner (3rd RcnPl. – 9th RcnTp. platoon leader), Captain Cornelius F. O’Leary (Able Co. commander), Major Gail H. Brown (1st Bn Commanding Officer), Captain Quentin R. Hardage (1st Battalion Executive Officer) et probably the other company commanders from the battalion (Captain Edward M. Weiss of Baker Co., Captain Wayne E. Williams of Charley Co. and Lieutenant Bruce S. Coleman of Dog Co. Maps are displayed on the table, meanwhile the three M8 Armored Cars are deployed on the ridge dominating the wooded valley of the river Wartoise which is the natural border that separates France from Belgium. The Infantry secures the crossroad and the village. Some patrols are sent in the close vicinity, but everyone looks at the door of the cafe, hoping to see Captain O’Leary giving the order to move up.

cafe_doly_douaneThe house where the cafe was held by Madam Hermance Doly, today in Neuville-aux-Joutes

Inside the cafe, the officers are planning their advance, without any decent intelligence about what to expect behind the forest. Soon, three local partisans join them: they want to liberate Belgium too! Finally, Hermance Doly gets fed up and says that she’s going into Belgium by bike to look into the hamlet of Cendron, then come back to confirm the way is clear ! Surprised but relieved, Hardage and O’Leary let her go. They experienced too much losses because of lack of intelligence concerning the presence of the enemy since they landed in Normandy. Few minutes later, the GIs see Doly coming back: “Germans left Cendron at 0600hrs this morning !” It’s a go. The column moves down the road leading to Belgium, and Doly climb on the very first Jeep leading the column… This Frenchwoman liberated Belgium !

carte_extraitAbstract of an original map of the area. The places mentioned in this article are depicted on this map 

Reconnaissance doesn’t stop and rushes northward, but the infantry stops in the village of Cendron, where the local welcoming committee is waiting for them. Within a few minute, it’s the whole region which is full of American soldiers: between Cendron and Rièzes, all the entry points are used by the 60th Infantry Regiment to push into Belgium and prepare the following operations. As the infantry is fraternizing with the locals, combat support and service support units are working hard: between Cendron and Forge-Philippe, they are cutting fences to settle down a runway for an artillery L-4 Piper Cub. On the other side of the village, the medical detachment installs a forward medical post. Finally, Able Company continues its way to its objective, Macon.

They reach the Loge, an other hamlet few kilometers north of Cendron, where the local were waiting them with bottles of beers, cheering and applauding the U.S. soldiers. Home-made flags are displayed at the windows by Madam Grandjean. Around 1000hrs, Captain O’Leary’s company reaches the lakes of Fourneau d’Oise, where the men are stopped gain by civilians, before reaching finally the station of Seloignes, a quarter later. Lieutenant Harner sent his Jeeps front to detect any enemy presence. Information comes back to the HQ, gathered by the Scout Sections: SS are entrenched in the village of Macon, and seem determined to fight. Colonel Gibney is contacted by radio, and he requests the infantry to stay on position until new instruction. In the mean time, an artillery battery of fourteen 105-mm Howitzers is deployed in a field south of the station, in order to support the advance of the infantry toward Macon.  A first volley is shot towards the village of Monceau-Imbrechies, directly followed by Reconnaissance Jeeps that are rushing down the village, to the church. Then come the M8 Armored Cars and the infantry. O’Leary is then waiting for the next orders…