On May 22, I ventured away from a business trip in Brussels to Namur Belgium to attempt to recreate a picture of my Dad from WWII. Michael Stirpe served in the 2833 Combat Engineers Battalion building floating bridges to replace those that were bombed.
While my Dad had about 50 pictures from his two-year duty in WWII, there was one picture that fascinated me most because it had a background that identified exactly where the picture was taken, and his handwriting on the front, “Namur, Belgium” . Most of his pictures from his duty in Germany, France, Belgium, and Austria were taken in a field by a jeep, or with backgrounds that could not be identified.
As I arrived in Namur, I stopped at an information booth near the train station to obtain a map. A young lady pointed the way to the River Meuse and the wrought iron fence that she saw in the picture. I walked past a beautifully restored city center and arrived at the river. I was shocked to see the same elaborately detailed wrought iron fence that was clearly visible in several pictures that I had taken along with me. I could identify a string of buildings across the river that were also in the picture, even though taller buildings had been constructed over the decades.
While 68 years had passed, it was eerily similar. I used my bad French to ask passing strangers to snap pictures of me in the same pose that “mon pere” had made along the fence until I finally approved of a picture that was nearly identical. The locals were interested in my collection of pictures and in the story that my Dad had served there in WWII.
I moved along the river to search for backgrounds in other pictures of my Dad, but had no luck finding these sites that may no longer exist. A policeman told me to ask “old men” who may remember. I walked more than a mile along the river, and was astonished to find a discreet French language marker placed by the U.S. Army 238 Engineers Combat Battalion commemorating the building of a floating bridge “pont flottant” by the Army on September 6, 1944.
It stated that the 172 meter bridge was constructed on the River Meuse in 5 hours to restore the liberty of our Belgian friends. The monument was surrounded by ducks and daisies. While my Dad built floating bridges, he served in the 2833rd Combat Engineers Battalion, not the 238th. Nevertheless, I took 30 pictures of the monument from every angle as I stood in disbelief that such a beautiful documentation of the soldiers’ work existed – and that I just happened to find it along my walk.
Guest blog post submitted by Mr. Dave Stirpe, son of World War II Veteran Michael Stirpe