The infamous foxhole

It was a 36th Armored Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Division veteran, Bob Kaufmann, who asked me to start the research about the Ottré massacre.

bob-kauffman-tony-vaccaroThe first time I met Bob, was on May 9th 2009. He had sent an email to researcher Eddy Monfort, saying he wanted to meet me.
We gathered at the Grandmenil crossroad, where Bob was arguing with a elderly, white haired man. I did not know the man at that time, but later on it turned out that it was World War II photographer Tony Vaccaro.
This tableau was all filmed by a small crew. (Later it turned out to be a crew from Dog green productions, who were filming Tony’s journey from France to Germany)
It was kinda funny: Two elderly men arguing at the tank of Grandmenil, surrounded by some American, Belgium, German, Dutch people and a filmcrew.
After that, they made a tour through Grandmenil, visited the church and we finally ended up in our backyard, with loads of cakes, coffee and great stories. The filmcrew and Mr Vaccaro had left before that.
With sorrow we said goodbye to Bob and the people who were with him: his son Allan, producer Allan Flemming and writer Timm Haasler with friends.

But to my surprise Bob came back the next day with his son.
We sat down and he told me that the meeting with Tony Vaccaro bothered him. Tony had told him that he was in Grandmenil during Christmas 1944. According to Bob that was impossible: the 83rd infantry Division, to wich Tony belonged,  was never in Grandmenil.
And that other story bothered him too: The story of an almost unknown massacre. Wich took place just outside the hamlet called Ottré.
According to Bob it never happend.
With his soft, light crackling voice he asked me if we could investigate that story.
And so, this journey had started and Bob and I became very good friends.
While I’m writing this, the Ottré story is still not finished.
But during our research something marvellous happend.

I think it was in October 2009 that I wrote a message to Bob, asking him why he was so interested in that Ottré story.
His answer stunned me: “Because I was there!”
Bob was just outside of Ottré, when two platoons of the 83rd Infantry Division, 331th Infantry Regiment, Company F, were on their way to attack the Germans.
Bob-Kauffman“I was there with George Sampson and 4 others! At a crossroads, in the direction of Bihain.”
George Sampson, his buddy during the battle of the bulge, and Bob dug in together with 4 others in 3 foxholes. This was on january 9th 1945.
Later, Bob published his book “The Replacement” and the situation is told on page 147:
“A runner came for Pop Waters and told him to report to the company CP. In a very short time he returned with news we did not want to hear. Our 3rd rifle squad was ordered to get it’s rear together, and we were taken to the edge of the village and ordered to dig in. Sampson and I, with the bazooka, were ordered to dig in right beside the road, Clark and another man, a few yards from us and the other team, beyond them.”
Bob Kauffmans memories were always very vivid. He took me to places wich he remembered. He gave me a simular discription of the foxhole situation as above. Via email I told him that there was a chance that his foxhole still could be there.
Bob mailed me back that this was impossible. Because of the cold and loads of snow, they hadn’t dug that deep. The other four had very soft soil, so they managed to dug deep. The third team even found a door, wich they used as a cover.

Why did Bob remember this event so vividly?
Because during that night, a vehicle came towards them, from the direction of Bihain. Bob and George both thought it was a German tank, on his way to the tiny hamlet. They had a discussion, because they were not sure anymore if the sound was a German or American vehicle. When they finally had vision on that tank, they saw it was an American Tank Destroyer.
“That man would never know what kind of hell he put us through and how close he came to having a bazooka round through the side of his vehicle.”

I called my best buddy Marco Eradus and made an appointment for the 23rd of October 2009 to have a look for Bob’s foxhole.
On that day, we spent some hours in another region, researching other events. Around 16.00 hrs we headed for the hamlet Ottré, searched for that crossroads and found it between the village and the village of Bihain.
german-helmetWe parked the car, and decided to walk through a small forest with young pinetrees. After a couple of minutes, Marco started to shout that he had found a helmet. I rushed through the branches, only to find Marco laughing hard, holding up a motorbike helmet.
We reached the first houses, without finding the foxholes.
That was a great disapointment. We lookd thorough, but there where no foxholes.

It already was getting dark, when we headed back to the car.
We decided to take a quick look on the other side of that crossroads.
3 seconds later, I was standing in Bob Kauffman’s foxhole. It was filled with branches. But is was unmistakenly a foxhole. Not deep, and like Bob said, it looked crappy.
If it was Bob’s foxhole, the we had to find the other ones too!
And we did. Just like Bob told us. One foxhole a few yards further on and the third was downwards.
We took some pictures and the next day I contacted Bob. He simply could not believe that we actually found his foxhole.
So, I promised him, that we would visit it, the next time he was in Belgium.

bob-kauffman-foxholeBob came back to the Ardennes on october 11th, 2010.
On the 13th I took him too the place where he was during the night from january 9th till the morning of january 10th 1945.
I parked the car on the other side of the crossroad, with the nose in the wrong direction. I did it to confuse him.
He got out of the car and looked around. “Where is it?”, he asked.
I looked at him. “Well, you were here in january 1945. You tell me!”
He turned around and looked to the other side.
“You parked the car at the wrong side of the road. It’s over there!”, he pointed to where his foxhole was and took off. He walked straight away to his foxhole.
Together with his son, daughter and daughter in law he stood there for a moment in silence, in his so called “infamous foxhole”.

Each time Bob visited us, he wanted to go there. And we did.
We stood there with his grandsons Jay, Eric,  son in law Alan, friend David and other people.
This was a great found. And I’m glad we made Bob so happy with this.

To me, this foxhole will forever be connected with the fields just outside of Ottré, where that massacre took place on january 10th 1945.
It is that foxhole and that great man who was there for just one night, who keeps me going in this research.
Bob later wrote to me: “The family has concluded that you really made the trip highly successful with al you did.  Especially finding that  foxhole.  That was a stroke of genius!”

Bob passed away on june 2nd, 2013 and is dearly missed by us.

You too can visit the “infamous foxhole” of Robert F. Kauffman.
You will find it on the map below.
Please treat that place with respect.

In october, during his last visit, I filmed Bob in his foxhole: