[75th Anniversary Commemoration] Inauguration of the Monument “L-Birds 1944-1945” in Sibret, in the presence of Mrs Helen Patton, granddaughter of General Patton.

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Authors Benoit Denet & Martin Gillet, reporting from Sibret.

Further to the commemoration of the Battle of the Bulge taking place, the Project “Piper Cub Ardennes 1944-2019” led by Philippe Mordant and his team honoured the fallen ‘L-Bird’ in Sibret (Vaux-sur-Sûre). Local authorities were by his side along with Mrs Helen Patton, granddaughter of General Patton. Piper Cub Ardennes 1944-2019 was quite honoured to meet and greet Mrs Patton.

NB: Piper Cub Ardennes 1944-2019 will be supporting the activities in December 2019. Check out www.pipercubardennes.be for all information (timings, activities, locations etc.) along with their dedicated Facebook page.

Not a regular Sunday. October 20th, 2019. Under a heavy and wet sky, the inauguration of the moment took place in Sibret (Vaux-sûr-Sure).

We reached out to Philippe Mordant during the unveiling of the Monument.

Mr Mordant reported that “We are here on the site of the Piper L-4 airfield used by General Patton’s 3rd Armored Division Artillery Observers in early January 1945 to repel the Germans beyond Bastogne after the breakthrough of December 27 breaking the encirclement of the city.

The Piper Cub Ardennes 1944-2019 project made it possible in September to open two temporary aerodromes for Piper Cub. One in Chenogne at 30 seconds fly time from Sibret and a second one in Bizory in the municipality of Bastogne. During episode 1 (September 5th-8th 2019), over 20 aircraft made with nearly 100 rotations on the temporary airfields.

In order to raise awareness to the current youth regarding the liberation of Belgium and, from there extend to the fragility of our democracies, this project allowed the fly over by a formation of 17 Cubs of all the schools of the entities of Vresse-sur-Semois, Paliseul, Vaux-sur-Sure and Bastogne. Twenty-five schools and over 2,000 students were reached. Our visit was accompanied by the bells of all the churches in the villages involved, which sounded all over the place.

With regard to the origin of this monument, this goes back to the very beginning of the 1944-2019 Piper Cub Ardennes project, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge. It’s Eddy Monfort, of the Ardennes History Remember 1944-1945 organisation who is organising the commemorations of Manhay 2019 in December, who gave us this picture of the Signal Corps US with his comment on the back to help us consolidate a request and to convince the municipality to take under its wing the project of “putting back to service” the airfield for Piper L-4. 

This photo of January 13, 1945, was very important to us because, with its location relatively located accurately in Sibret, it allowed the connection of the presence of L-4 aircraft in the region.

Then, the paperwork process was put a little aside, because, with his cub on the back, it was not the best way to reassure the Mayor in charge of his town’s security. But as soon as Vaux-sur-Sûre and its Mayor Yves Besseling took part in the process to put back to service the aerodrome, we presented this photo to Claude Paul, an alderman in Vaux-sur-Sûre.

Nevertheless, we could not find the exact location where this picture was taken.  Indeed, the details on the bottom left of the photo were relatively vague and the configuration of the scene had changed greatly with buildings destroyed and razed after the fighting in the winter of 1944-1945.  These temporary airfields did not require any special setup and are therefore very difficult to locate without direct witnesses. Thanks to the testimony of Mr Claude Guillaume -who was sitting next to us- who was 10 years old in 1945, we were able to locate the airfield on which Piper Cub L-4 landed on January 13, 1945. It also allowed us to identify the site where the artillery batteries that the Cub accompanied were located. Mr Claude Guillaume was the son of the teacher of Sibret. His older brothers took him to see the planes landing in his devastated village.

It was also Mr Claude Guillaume who allowed us to identify a second witness with Mrs Yvette Vlieghe (widow of Mr Martin) who was 9 years old in 1945. It happens that it is also Mrs Vlieghe and her son Pol-Henry Martin who owns the “airfield”. Mrs Vlieghe was, like other children, came to shelter from the V1 and V2 in a small calm village of the Ardennes. That’s how she lived in Bertha Martin’s house right at the end of the airfield “in her garden”.

We had solved the investigation: the photo was taken on this ground by a US Signal Corps photographer showing a Piper Cub returned to the roof after a failed landing could be located. Thanks to the photos of the destroyed buildings taken in 1945 and provided by Mr Claude Guillaume, the silhouettes of the facades visible in the background of the photo could be identified.”

© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet

Yves Cartilier, a member from the Piper Cub Ardennes 1944-2019 and also President of the Belgian Aviation Preservation Associate known as BAPA, said a few words and shared anecdotes on the Piper Cub and its role during WWII. The Mayor of Vaux-sur-Sûre, namely Yves Besseling also thanked all participants and reminded us of the ‘duty to remember’.

With the help of Mrs Helen Patton from the Patton Alliance Organisation, Mr Mordant unveiled the monument, while the nationals hymns of the United States of America and Belgium are played, that supports the commemorative plaque in honour of the L-Birds pilots of 1944-1945.

© Benoit Denet
© Benoit Denet

As children of WWII veterans were also part of the public, emotions were quite high in this honourable moment. Smiles, face expressions, words and tears were shared.

© Benoit Denet

Mr Mordant highlights the content of the panel: “The large didactic panel for children and adults completes the monument. On the front, we find all the explanations on the photo of 13 January 1945 of Sibret showing two (look good) Piper Cub L-4 on the snowy ground with a location on the map of the airfield and positions of Field artillery on January 13, 1945.  On the back, we have consolidated commented photos of L-Birds in the Ardennes from September 1944 to January 1945, part of which in the harsh climate of the Ardennes. The utility of these beautiful expensive reconnaissance aircraft to Patton is also detailed.

© Piper Cub Ardennes 1944 – 2019

The inauguration of the monument is part of the commemorations of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and the project ‘Piper Cub Ardennes 1944-2019.   

© Piper Cub Ardennes 1944 – 2019

Mr Mordant also handed over the ‘Piper Cub Ardennes 1944-2019’ badge, which consolidates the Project identity into one piece. This badge can be acquired to the benefits of the non-profit Organisation Animalaine.

© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet

We would like to thank here the 4 private donors who made it possible to offer to the Commune of Vaux-sur-Sûre this monument and this didactic panel in honour of all the L-Birds pilots active in Belgium and in particular in the Ardennes from September 1944 to spring 1945.”

The inauguration concluded with a drink in the exact location in the field. Great opportunity to meet and greet with all participants and to commemorate. Lest we forget.

© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet

Mrs Helen Patton with Philippe Mordant.

© Martin Gillet

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