Lloyd Stegeman, always wanted to go back to Germany where he had fought in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest and in many other battles during World War II. He always found reasons that he couldn’t go. Work, farming and then he said he was just too old. Unfortunately, Lloyd passed away in September, 2018 at the age of 98 without ever going back.
According to his eldest daughter Melanie Halverson, Lloyd would have never thought in a million years that 12 of his descendants including four of his seven children would travel to see where he had fought and was wounded as a tank commander in the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion. “It was the 75th Anniversary celebration of the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, and we could not have chosen a better time or year to go. It was almost exactly one year after dad passed away,” said Melanie.
Four years-ago Melanie used her father’s Christmas gift money to purchase an iPad. When Melanie asked Lloyd what he wanted her to look up for him he said, “The 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion.” That opened up a whole new world of discovery of World War II and an international relationship with Yuri Beckers.
Yuri is a Dutch native living in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has been researching the history of the U.S. 9th Infantry Division’s actions in WWII for 17 years and is writing a book about the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division’s role in the Hurtgen Forest battle on the western edge of Germany between September 1944 and February 1945. Lloyd’s unit played an important part in the support of the 9th Infantry Division throughout the war in North Africa, later in Normandy and all the way to Germany including the Hurtgen Forest battle.
In 2015, Melanie contacted Yuri by email to let him know that Lloyd had been in the 899th in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. Yuri contacted Melanie and interviewed Lloyd by Skype. He was amazed at how sharp and accurate Lloyd’s memory was about where he was each day of his tour of duty in Europe. He then came to Mora to visit the Stegemans for four days that fall. Since then they have kept in touch. This year, Yuri contacted Melanie to invite the Stegeman family to be guests to the 75th Anniversary of the Battles of Aachen and Hurtgen Forest from October 2-7.
The Hurtgen Forest Battle Anniversary
Melanie and her brother Robin talked it over and decided that they should just do it. They contacted their siblings and 12 family members ended up flying to Amsterdam and on to Germany to attend the fifth annual Hurtgen Forest Conference known as the “Meeting of sons, daughters, grandchildren and veterans of the Hurtgen Forest Battle.”
The conference was organized by a group of Germans called the Arbeitsgruppe Grenzland 1944/1945. The main organizer was Albert Trostorf, Maren Esser and Sheila Korlekie Trostorf Animatey with the help of a great team according to Melanie. They included Andrea Vitz, Rainer Monnartz and the Dutch Yuri Beckers.
What started out five years ago with 30 people attending has grown into a big event with over 100 participants this year. What made the event special, was that American and German veterans and families came together, and shared mutual experiences, no matter what country they were from. This year, two American veterans of the 9th Infantry Division were in attendance, Paul Schumacher and Jack Dauner. Rudolph Porsche, a German veteran, also participated.
Each day Rudolf put on his German uniform. He was very serious. He was a history teacher. “That surprised us at how proud they were to tell us about what had happened, said Melanie.” “But not in a prideful way,” added Karen. Robin added that they said, “We didn’t want this war either.”
Each year there have been various presentations, bus tour visits to former battlefields, museums and ceremonies at American and German cemeteries and a lot of emotional experiences where people who attended shared the stories of their loved ones involved in the war.
Lloyd and the Tank Destroyer Battalion
Mora’s Lloyd Stegeman served in C Company of the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion. He arrived at the little town of Schevenhutte in September 1944, in support of the 9th Infantry Division. Lloyd parked his tank destroyer next to a small farm on the eastern edge of the village, near a road leading into the forest. There he stayed for two months until he moved out on Nov. 16, 1944. As part of a big American attack, he went into the direction of the town of Gressenich, where his tank got hit, wounding Lloyd. The war was over for him.
The medic and the mortar
After the war, Lloyd often mentioned the town of Schevenhutte, and after getting in touch with Yuri Beckers, he shared a lot of stories. Yuri was able to track down the farm, and took many pictures and videos for Lloyd. Hearing the stories in such detail amazed Yuri. Through Lloyd he was able to research all the events in great detail and was able to share his findings with Lloyd.
One of the main stories that stayed with Lloyd was when he captured a German medic. The man was smiling and carried a metal suitcase. Lloyd did not search the case, but sent him off to the nearby hotel where they kept the prisoners of war. Soon after, an explosion erupted in the middle of the prisoners that were kept at the hotel. For over 73 years, Lloyd believed a booby trap bomb might have been in the German’s case. He blamed himself for the explosion because he did not search through the contents of the case. In 2017, Yuri was able to verify that it was not the German medic’s case, but actually a German mortar round that was fired into the hotel yard. This took away a lot of regret for Lloyd.
During the first weekend of October this year, it was this very same hotel where Lloyd’s children and family members enjoyed a warm soup for lunch on a rainy day. Yuri gave the large group of participants a presentation of a lot of the events and actions that had happened in Schevenhutte.
Each day the group went on a bus tour to a different battlefield, museum, cemetery or castle.
“The day they spent in Schevenhütte, Germany was planned just for the Stegeman family,” said Melanie. “It was a beautiful small town with a few hundred people,” said Lynn’s wife Karen.
A highlight was a visit to the farm where Lloyd stayed. They always wondered about Lloyd describing the barn being attached to the house. They saw that he was not imagining things. They actually were attached. Lynn said, “The house where Lloyd’s tank was sitting when he was there was built in 1739.”
Lanny said that when they walked around the farm it was completely different than what they had envisioned. It made a big impression on them including the hillsides and foxholes where the soldiers had been. Where Lloyd got hit was maybe a quarter mile from where he had been positioned with his tank for two months.
Lynn commented, “When you heard the other guy’s stories, dad was lucky he got hit where he did.”
While at the farm with 12 family members present, Yuri talked about Lloyd, sharing several wartime stories, and explained how his defense of the area was crucial for the outcome of the battle in that area. Then, the organization of Arbeitsgruppe Grenzland 1944/1945 presented a large floral piece to the family, while Yuri handed over a framed picture of Lloyd and the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion patch to Melanie. Together they placed the flowers in front of the farm, and had a moment to reflect and remember.
They visited American and German cemeteries which made quite an impression on them. “We had Rudolph Porsche, a German paratrooper veteran, with us who had been taken captive by the Americans during the war,” said Melanie. “We also had an American infantryman veteran standing side-by-side with the German talking to us. Being in the German cemetery with the German veteran was really emotional to me. My heart just went out to them. Rudolph said that the American cemetery is beautiful and the German cemetery is clean and neat and is just good enough. It just broke my heart. We agreed that war is no good.”
Lanny added, “The nice thing about it was that we not only heard the American side, we also heard the German side. That made a big impression. The German people did not want to fight the war either. Now after walking, seeing and feeling it, it made us understand what dad’s stories were all about.”
Robin said that the biggest impression for him was the tremendous sacrifice by both sides in the many battles. In the Hurtgen Forest they saw foxholes and heard stories of how the soldiers had to carry two full cans of gasoline at a time for two miles through the mud.
Melanie said, “I cannot say enough about Yuri. He has really been a blessing to our family. He is like my other son. He is like family, a very, very special person. He speaks five languages. His 6-year old daughter speaks three languages and his father speaks six languages.”
He is writing a book about that battle and Lloyd’s 899th Battalion that fought in the Hurtgen Forest area because it was a battle that had heavy casualties. Little is written about it and it was important in changing the war.
Yuri became fascinated by WWII events when his parents took his sister and him to visit Normandy and a U.S. Cemetery. That’s where he learned that all of the white crosses were for men who fought for his freedom. From then on, he read many books about the war including “If You Survive” where he learned about the battle of Hurtgen Forest. Through more research he found the book “A dark and bloody ground” by Edward G. Miller. Through this book he learned about the 9th Division’s actions in the forest which have been overlooked in many history books. The forest was close to his home in Netherlands. It was significant because it enabled the Allied Forces to penetrate Hitler’s Siegfried Line and push further into Germany. The forest is 50 square miles and across the border into Germany from Belgium.
Expectations at that time were high and many thought the war would be over by Christmas, 1944. However, elements of the 9th Division were still in the area six months later. The 9th Division suffered heavy casualties and the U.S. suffered 25,000 casualties, while the German side had around 12,000 casualties. The Stegeman family was told of a battle where 300 American men left to fight and 27 came back alive. Some reports are that it was a German victory and a huge disappointment for the Allies. The battle became overshadowed by the well-known Battle of the Bulge and has often been overlooked.
The trip to Germany was very meaningful to the Stegeman family. Karen said about the trip, “It’s a life changing event. It makes you so appreciative that these young men were willing to die.”
Melanie said that if anyone knows stories about these battles they should contact and share those stories with these people in Europe who are recording the history. She would also recommend that sons, daughters and grandchildren of war veterans should go and see where their relatives fought.
“Melanie summed it up well when she said, ‘It was a trip of a lifetime.’” Robin added, “Everyone should go and see it. It changes your outlook of history and you want to learn more.”