Each time 36th Armored Infantry Regiment veteran Bob Kauffman visited the Ardennes, we drove to all the places were he was during the battle of the Ardennes. Bob knew so many people. In each place he knew people. And if he didn’t know anybody, then he used his famous “Bob Kauffman” method: He just walked to the door and knocks on it. Then turns around, waving at me or my wife to come over to do the French talking.
I remember one meeting: we drove just outside La Gleize. I was speeding up, when Bob suddenly shouted “Stop, stop the car!”
So, I manouvred the car to the left side of the road, thankfull for not hitting another car.
Before I knew it, Bob was 85 years old in 2010, he jumped out of the car and ran off to a half hardend path. I tried to get my gear together: a backpack with drinks and some food, my camera and my videocamera. I had serious trouble to keep up with him. He had recognised a house where he was in, when the Germans attacked La Gleize. So he did what he alwys did: knock on that door, waited for someone to come and then started to make new friends.
It always worked.
Well, not allways.
There is a little hamlet, called Banneu (not the place of pilgrimage).
It had that name for a long time.
Until we came there: Whitin 1 visit, it carried the name Idiotville.
Bob always wanted to visit that place, because he was there in the first week of january 1945. Several times I begged him not to go there anymore.
It is mentionend in his book “The Replacement” on page 128.
“No sooner had some of us entered the houses, when a machine gun opend up behind us and began pouring heavy fire down that side road, cutting the lead elements from those following. Those of us, who had entered the houses, must have interrupted the preparation of the evening meal, because there was some food on the stoves. I grabbed a small pan of hot milk and gulped it down. It was delicious.” He not only drank milk in that house. He also captured some German soldiers in a house and slept one night in a barn.
He just wanted to see that kitchen again. And he wanted to thank the owners for that nice pan with warm milk.
But every time we where there, that simple “knock-on-the-door” thing did not work.
The people in the house and the house next to it were unfriendly, very closed and not willing to let him see the kitchen. We even had one time that they stared at us from a closed window and did not open the door at all.
Bob just could not understand… In every town he was more then welcome. Except here.
In Banneu he also slept one night in a barn on that same day in 1945 and he was looking for a woman he met years ago. That was on october 23th 2010. He knocked on a door and an elderly woman opend the door. Bob told her who he was looking for and asked if the woman still lived in the house. The woman looked at Bob and told him she did not know. Bob asked the woman if she herself lived in the house. The woman again said that she did not know.
“So, she is telling me that she doesn’t know if she lives in this house?!”, he asked me. I just played a fool, not laughing.
At that same day we met a young men who was mentally disabled. He was kinda friendly, but Bob remembered him as not so friendly in an earlier meeting. This time it went ok. The guy pointed out where the Americans where and I presumed he knew something about the battle in Banneu. Maybe someone told him something about it. I translated it and asked the guy where they were. The guy pointed in a vague direction, wich gave me Bob’s comment: “Well, that is a good thing to know where we were in 1945.”
The next thing the guy wanted to share with us, is where the Africans were.
I translated it too Bob, hoping I would’nt laugh. Bob looked at me in utter surprise. “Is he fooling around with us?”
That was the moment to end this visit and to move on. But the guy kept talking to us, hanging throught the carwindow, and he kept asking if Bob was a veteran. After some nice padding on the hand, we took of.
At our last visit, Bob wanted to meet with two people in Banneu. They live just outside this village. They are aristocrats: Baron and Baroness. We tried to visit them before, but that did not work out to well. At this day we were invited and we sat down at the biggest fireplace I have ever seen. You could fire up a complete tree in it.
Bob talked to the baroness and asked her, if she could guide them in Banneu, hoping she could loosen up the villagers ands Bob could see the kitchen, where he drank his milk. She agreed and we drove off.
We parked the cars on the side of the house and got out.
The baroness, who was in her own car, got out too and asked wich house we were looking for. Bob pointed to the house.
“That’s the house where I drank that pan of milk.”
For a moment there was silence in that pittoresque street in Banneu.
“But that house is a caring home for mentally ill people!”, the Baroness said.
Boy, when we got back in the car, we laughed so loud, that are stomache ached so hard…..
But first, of course, Bob finally could enter the house and look at that kitchen were he was when was just 19 years old. For a small moment you could see a glimpse of that 19 year old Bob, reliving that moment when he was standing in the middle of that dreadful war.
Then he looked at me. “That was nice, wasn’t it?”