CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two U.S. congressmen from Pennsylvania have submitted a resolution to correct the historic record about a group of black artillerymen -- including one West Virginian -- massacred by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
Tech. Sgt. James Aubrey Stewart, of Piedmont in Mineral County, was among the 11 black soldiers tortured and killed near the town of Wereth, Belgium, on Dec. 17, 1944. The men have come to be known as the Wereth 11.
Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach and Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah introduced a resolution in December to formally honor the men who died in Wereth and to amend a 1949 Armed Services Committee report that omitted the Wereth massacre from a list of atrocities committed by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.
"I just think it's appropriate that we do that," said Gerlach, a six-term congressman who stumbled upon the story of the Wereth 11 while watching a documentary about the battle.
"It struck me as patently unfair that these servicemen were not properly recognized by the Armed Services Committee at that time," Gerlach said.
Although none of the 11 soldiers killed at Wereth were from Pennsylvania, Gerlach said it was important to correct the historic record and remember the artillerymen who gave their lives there.
Stewart, 37 at the time of his death, was assigned to the all-black 333rd Field Artillery Battalion when the Germans began a surprise offensive on Dec. 16, 1944 that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Stewart and 10 comrades found themselves outnumbered and overrun, 11 miles behind enemy lines.
The group made their way to Wereth, where a Belgian farmer hid them in a barn. But the Germans found out, and Stewart and the others surrendered early on the morning of Dec. 17.
The 11 soldiers refused to divulge who had hidden them, and were beaten with rifle butts, stabbed with bayonets, shot and left to die in a Belgian ditch.