On March 14, 2009, around 10:30 pm, Jan Heykoop finds a “dogtag”. It was his first trip with his new metal detector.
At that time we were in our first steps of filedresearch. Unexperienced and curious how these things worked.
Opposite: Jan Heykoop, looking for battle of the bulge traces.
Half an hour after, he finds the dogtag, in a field in the hills around Grandmenil.
March 14 & 15, 2009: Finding the dogtag.
During the weekend of march 14 and 15, 2009 I invited some people with a metal detector.
Our goal: To identify the positions where Americans have been during the Battle of Grandmenil. It was also the intention to actually find traces of the Americans, such as shells, shrapnel, etc.
Early in the morning Nick, Corné and his son Jarco arrived in bed and breakfast Bo Temps. Three experienced researchers, who search almost weekly. A little later Jan arrives, although a novice, but very enthusiastic.
The first location is on the hill outside Grandmenil, where the 289th regiment, company G and H should have been (75 th infantry division). The numerous foxholes confirm my idea that a defensive line must have been located here on 24 and 25 December, 1944. For the gentlemen the search is not that interesting: they find nothing. We decide to go forward, about thirty meters, towards the ridge
Immediately, there is succes: unused bullets, barbed wire barriers and coffee bags were found. During this short time, Nick takes some time to photograph the immediate environment. He also pictures Jan, who seems to dig for something meaningless.
One minute later, Jan shouts at us and asks (I quote): “Is this a dogtag?”
The disbelief among the researchers is high. Novice Jan has just found a so called Dogtag, a nametag of a soldier who has been on the hill.
A dogtag is an item that is in the list with favorites of metal-seekers.
The rest of the time is used for mapping the environment (with the exception of the hill west of Grandmenil.)
The men have an excellent sense for military spots.
On Sunday Corné finds a foxhole, used for waste on the hill north of Grandmenil. Bottles, boots, batteries, a lighter and a pen appear.
A very successful two days.
Since then Jan spends hours behind his computer. He searched for the owner of the dogtag: Henry Holtzman. Within a few days, Jan tracks the soldier, he lived in Chicago, where it is suspected that he is now deceased. It is a fact that Henry Holtzman has left the battlefield alive.
This provides a special situation, why is the dogtag there in the hills?
Most likely is, that Henry lost it.
Jan Heykoop after its discovery, starts searching for the family. He emails with people of the 75th division. He is determined to sent the stainless steel plate to the relatives.
After several dead-end tracks, Jan has suddenly succes on March 22, 2009.
War Veteran Jim Feierabend mailed Jan that he has known Henry Holtzman. He met Holtzman several times on Veterans Days and veteran meetings. The last years, they didn’t met, but Feierabend is looking for the address.
In the following days, Jan receives photos from Jim Feierabend. He served in the 75th Armored Division, 291th Regiment, Company I. According to my information, he was in Manhay.
March 25, 2009 turnes to be Jan’s lucky day.
He has long phonecall with Howard Holtzman, the son of Henry Holtzman.
In this period, Jan has contact with other veterans. From a message board, where he placed a call, several veterans react. The reaction is always the same: the valuation for Jan on his search for relatives of the dogtag. It becomes increasingly clear that the dogtag is a personal relic for relatives.
On March 28 and March 30 Jan receives two emails from Laurie Holtzman, the daughter of Henry. The whole family has been informed on the found dogtag. The mails are very enthousiastic and moving. Henry Holtzman is described as a very warm, a bit concluded man, who stood for his family. About the war, he never said much.
The family is looking for photos.
Laurie finds the personeel belongings ofher father on the attick in a box. It contains several things, but the nicest one is a leather diary type book.
It contains the following information:
– Henry arrived at Belgium on December 21 1944.
– On December 25 he is in “Falang. (Palenge near Durbuy)
Also, he writes in his little book the names “Briscol, Grand Menil, Hazell and Erezée, including the date is January 1, 1945. Possibly Henry Holtzman remained in this region until 1 January, 1945.
– On December 25 at 04.00 hrs he goes into action with the 3rd battalion: They start the attack on Grandmenil.
Long time Jan and I asked ourselves in what company Henry served. The family replied through a photograph, which they placed on the National WWII memorial. : Henry was a medic, who was assigned to the 289th regiment infantery.
It is clear, however, where Henry Holtzman has been. On the hill between the Trou the Loup and Grandmenil. Holtzman sat on that hill, surrounded by barbed wire barriers and foxholes. Here he lost his dogtag. Or: he threw it away. Holtzman was Jewish. The theory of Jan is that Holtzman possible has thrown away the tag, because he feared the Germans and what they would do to him when he was captured. The dogtag would show that he was Jewish (it has an H on it).
It is still guessing in which company Holtzman was, during the fights in this area.
In the story of Trou de Loup, Paul Frohmader speaks (75th division, 289th, Company K):
Paul Frohmader of the 75 th infantery also has to deal with the attacks German tanks on the road of Grandmenil-Erezée. After the attack his group decides to follow the tank trails, back to Grandmenil. Many of the men were afraid to follow the tanks, Frohmader was more afraid for his own artillery fire: there had been twice fired on them during the trip to Grandmenil.
They met their captain, who led them through a dense forest and gave the order to dig foxholes. They were just in place when German tanks came back. Frohmader counted them: there were thirteen of them.
In that area there are still lots of foxholes. Holtzman may dug in with company K. Others speak of a hill with a field kitchen, but do not name the company that was there. The stories and maps of Frank Marasca seem to prove that on this hill the 289th, Company G or H has been. The Maresca maps are too small to make a clear answer to this. I tend to Company G.
Key question remains: what company was there, southeast of Grandmenil?
The dogtag arrives in Chicago:
On April 30, 2009 Jan receives an e-mail: it is Laurie, the daughter of Henry Holtzman.
“Hi Jan, I GOT THE PACKAGE”. That’s the start of the mail. It is clearly the family Holtzman is pleased with the return of the dogtag, which belonged to their father.
With the arrival of the dogtag, it appears to be a temporary end to the story of Henry Holtzman. The family had already indicated that dad Holtzman never told much about his experiences in the Ardennes. Something most veterans did not do, as veteran Jim Feierabend already mailed.
This means that (for now?) many questions remain open about Henry Holtzman’s stay in this region.
The biggest question remains: why was the dogtag in these hills? Did Henry Holtzman lost it? Or is Jim Feierabend right: Henry threw the dogtag away, because the “H” on his dogtag would betray that he was Jewish.
On May 22 2009, the story of Jan and the found dogtag, is in the Daily Courier.
Veteran Jim Feierabend has tipped the newspaper.
Nice detail is that the picture with Jan is token by me in Trou de Loup, where I found the grenade on the photo.
Many thanks to the family Holtzman, Chicago.
Press article Jan Heykoop.