Paul H. Rechnitzer in 1944

 

1st Lieutenant Paul H. Rechnitzer
and the 3225th Quartermaster Service company, 9th U.S. Army

Zepperen was liberated by elements of the American 1st Army on September the 8th 1944. The sight of the powerfull American troops and their splendid armor passing through the following days was overwhelming. Then peace came over Zepperen. It wasn’t untill the 7th December the villagers saw a lot of big guns arriving and the 25th Field Artillery Battalion was billeted in the schools. A few days before Christmas they departed to fight the Germans in their own Hurtgenwald. An then, as the surprise counterattack of the Germans was taking place in the Ardennes, a Quartermaster Service Company took the place of the big guns. Probably Zepperen had been chosen for an emergency gasoline and K-rations dump because since 1936 it had one of the few roads in concrete in this region.

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P.H. Rechnitzer in front of his HQ in Zepperen

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Lieutenant Bill Holland and 1st Lieutenant Paul H. Rechnitzer in Cornwall (U.K.) awaiting their shipment to the continent, 1944. They were there about 30 days during which time it was cold and wet. They had nothing to do but wait and stay dry

 

Paul Harvey Rechnitzer (°5.7.1918), of far Danish origin, was their commanding officer. Later on he was area sales manager with the Phillips Petroleum Company. He now lives in Sagle, Idaho, USA. He contacted Zepperen by letter of 11th February 1990 to the Mayor, but Zepperen had lost its autonomy since 1977. So the city archivist passed the letter to the Remacluskring Zepperen. After a reconnaissance visit by his daughters Karen and Kristine on April 29th 1995, Paul H. and Karen, doctor in art history, visited Zepperen on the 30th of June 2000, during an art history-tour in Holland-Belgium. A band played the national anthem and the Mayor of Sint-Truiden thanked Paul Rechnitzer on behalf of all American liberators. Following a brief speech by the former officer, which received an ovation from the gathered crowd in the town square, the mayor presented him an engraved pewter plate as a memento. Said one Texan who attended : “Never in my life had I been so proud to be an American”. A memorable day for Zepperen and the local historical society “Remacluskring” !

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Paul H. Rechnitzer back in Zepperen after 55 years !
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Revisiting with Patty Bradshaw, Market Place Sint-Truiden, 1th of May 2002

 

In 2002 Paul H. Rechnitzer presented a US-flag to Zepperen.
It was flown over the Capitol of the US at the request of senior Senator from Idaho, Larry E. Craig
Paul was born on July 5th 1918 in Evanston Illinois from Danish parents and died, almost one hundred years old, on January 22th 2017 in Sandpoint Idaho USA.
He wrote down the following memories in his letters to the Remacluskring :
The 3225th Quartermaster Service Company came into existence as Company B of the 565th Quartermaster Service Battalion, at Camp Gordon, Georgia, in early 1943. The Commanding Officer was a reservist from Ohio, named captain Norman Schroeder. The platoon leaders were recent graduates of the Officers Candidate School at Camp Lee, Virginia. They were 2nd Lieutenants Willam “Bill” R. Holland of Lynchburg, Virginia and Paul H. Rechnitzer of Kansas City, Missouri. The 565th QM Svc Bn was comprised of white officers and black enlisted men. In a term derived from the Civil War this organisation was called a “colored” outfit.

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The 3225th guideon, a company sized flag. It is carried by a soldier in the first row, right hand column. Yellow and blue are the QM colors. The insignia is made up of a wheel, (the transportation function), a key (the storehouse) and a sword (defending installations). The 13 stars are for the original colonies and the eagle is the American eagle

Prior to being shipped overseas on the “Sterling Castle” the four companies of the 565th were designated as separate companies. The 3225th arrived in Liverpool, England, in early December 1943. It was immediatly deployed to Maiden Newton, Dorset, southern England, where it was used to operate a railhead in Area C, in support of the troops being assembled for the invasion of France. The railhead distributed rations (Class I) to its assigned units. While at Maiden Newton 1st Lieutenant Rechnitzer assumed command. He there met with a 1st Lieutenant and nurse of the 305th Station hospital, his first future wife.
In December 1944 the 3225th moved to the Continent. After three weeks in railway box cars the unit arrived in Maastricht, Holland, on Christmas eve, 1944. The 3225th was attached to the 9th Army for the purpose of establishing a one day reserve of one million gallons of gasoline and 600.000 rations. Both the gasoline and rations would be needed if the Germans could not be contained in what is known as the “Battle of the Bulge”.
There were 20 stacks of 10,000 five gallon cans in 4 rows of 2.500 cans alongside the paved highway that goes through Zepperen. The 3255th maintained and guarded this reserve until the great threat created during te Battle of the Bulge was eliminated. The cans were lettered QMC and USA and had the round screw type cap. If anyone thinks it is easy to lift two 5 gallon cans of gasoline at the same time from the ground onto the bed of a 6×6 truck they only need try it. I was challanged once, by the men, and I could never get the left hand can up at the same time as the can in my right hand.

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Jef Franssen and a black soldier in the snow by the town square, 1945.
His wife Gaby did laundry-work for the American troops

The rations were to be used by the troops in the field. The rations in one pile, placed in a farm yard and covered with tarpaulins, made for a really huge stack which must have measured 20 to 30 feet by 100 feet. And it was at least 10-15 feet high. The K rations in boxes were small olive drab boxes which contained a number of items that represented one meal. There would be a can of some kind of meat, crackers and coffee. The coffee was always very popular. During the 30 day period that this emergency dump was maintained the gasoline and rations were guarded 24 hours a day despite the severely cold weather.
Quarter Master Companies consisted of two platoons of four squads plus a Headquarters. We were usually just three officers : two platoon leaders and the Company Commander. The total compliment was 218 enlisted men and 3 officers. Prior to the anti-segregation movement following the war it was normal practice of all services to segregate blacks into all black units, usually with white officers. This practice went back to the Civil War days. In our case one platoon was made up of draftees from the south and the other from the north. The platoon from the south was my favorite as they were easier to work with and generally presented fewer disciplinary problems.
At one time the Army was unable to fill our ration requisitions because a refrigerator ship had been sunk by a mine in the harbor at Antwerp. I went over to the P-47 base to look for some extra rations and the local farmers gave us some potatoes. Il always ate last and can still see the cooks getting one last serving spoon full of the evening meal out of the pot. During our time in Zepperen the officers were billeted individually with nearby residents. The enlisted men were quartered in two catholic school building in the center of town.
The farm house of Gilissen must have been where we were entertained several times. We had our Company Headquarters in a house on the highway. The people who lived in the house next door would have we officers over for dinner on Saturday evenings. I was billeted in a home near the end of the main street. The rear of the place was a farm yard with stalls for cows. My room was upstairs with one large bed and a wash stand. No heat. I would breakfast with the farmer and his wife each morning. They furnished a cake or pastry. I provided the coffee and sugar.
The Services of Supply wanted me to sign for the entire stock pile and I wouldn’t do it because I was never certain we had received all they said they had shipped. They brought in more to make certain we had the million gallons, but I still refused to sign for it all. As it turned out the Operations Officer at the HQ in Maastricht was also a Phillips Petroleum Company employee serving his country… I never signed, because Zepperen was then in a combat zone (Ardennes) and there is no accountibility in a combat area.
I was preoccupied with my concerns for the behavior of the men and with carrying out the guard function. We had many problems with discipline. The company kitchen was somewhere in town near the barracks which were in two school buildings. Several nights in a rowe someone wouls fire his cabine into the air, whoch was very disturbing to the civilians. I found several warm rifle barrels but was never able to identify the one who pulled the trigger. The weather was bad and the nights were long. It was difficult to keep our men on guard duty.
In the company headquarters and the orderly room, the first door on the right after entering through the front door, we once had a standoff one night when one of the men went biserk and held the 1st Sgt at gunpoint. We were having a meeting of the non-commissioned in the orderly room at the time. We finally got the man calmed down and took his gun away from him. I was tempted to use force but fortunately did not.
One evening Pfc (Private first class) Mann shot and killed a white Engineer from a nearby unit who was interferring with his duties as a guard on his post. Another soldier was shot five times during the course of the same incident. Pfc Mann received a sentence of 1 year in the Army stockade, which time he served. There were some who thought the sentence was too light. Pfc Mann wrote to me several times while in the stockade asking to be allowed tot return to his old outfit in his release. But the Army didn’t operate that way. He probably was shipped home.

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Lt.-Colonel P.H. Rechnitzer 1994

 

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The replica of the uniform worn by 1st Lieutenant Paul Rechnitzer. All officers uniforms have U.S. on the lapels. One silver bar indicates 1st Lieutenant. The patch is that of the 9th Army, with 9 points. The insigna is QM. Two overseas bars after just over two times six months in the European Theatre of Operations. The jacket itself is an Eisenhower jacket, only used in the ETO. Two ribbons : the left one is called American Campaign, the other is for service in the ETO : black (Germany), red-white-blue (US), red-white-green (Italy). For each combat zone was awarded 1 battle star (Ardennes Campaign).

 

Pfc Hunter shot himself during guard duty. He was a slightly built youth and a model soldier. The wound received I always felt was really an accidental gunshot wound. The bullet from his carbine went between two toes so the damage was minimal and of no consequence. But the military system wanted to have him court martialled for his SIF, self inflicted wound. The hospital he was taken to happened to be the same 7th Evacuation Hospital that had been on the Sterling Castle, the ship we came over on, so I knew some of the officers and nurses. I rushed over one evening to stop the charge that was beeing filed. I recall that it was so cold the Jeep windshield was iced over on both sides. Since the protection from the wind was absolutely necessary I couldn’t put the windshield down so I drove the best I could peeking around the drivers side from time to time to be sure I was still on the road. Hunter did return to duty and as far as I was concerened he continued to perform in a better than average way. In those days the company commander was responsible for all promotions within the prescribed TO, table of organization, but there was no limit on Pfc’s which was the first step above Private. In our Company promotions to PFc were a way to encourage better behavior and performance and the 1 stripe could be taken away easily.
There was an AA battery located what I thought was to the east of us, in the general vicinity of the gasoline dump. They shot down 7 of 8 German fighters one morning in an apparent raid on a nearby P-47 base. The 8th turned back. I can still “see” the parachutes and the “welcoming committee” of farmers. The Commanding Officer of the outfit was very independent and seemed pleased that his outfit could shoot better without the use of the relatively new rader to aim their guns.
On another occasion we heard a German V-1 rocket aimed for England put-puting it’s way across country. When it lost power and the engine quit we knew that it would impact somewhere nearby. We dived for cover in the building. The bomb exploded in a farm yard close into town, blowing the windows out in the front of the Company Headquarters. I recall the shattered glass on the floor. We went over to where the bomb had landed. The crater was about 30 feet across and perhaps 4-5 feet deep. In our opinion the damage was slight.
We had a Dodge truck ¾ ton weapons carrier. Our plan in the event we had to retreat was to mount our 50cal machine gun in the back of the truck and drive down the road heading west while spraying the cans with gun fire.
When the emergency was over, rear echelon troops, Services of Supply, came and removed the 1 day million gallon gasoline reserve. Thus the 3225th was relieved and moved forward with the 9th Army supplying gasoline and oil from various points before and after crossing the Rhine. When the war ended the 3225th had earned three battle starts for participating in campaigns initiated by the 9th Army. For a Quartermaster Service Company this was a unique achievement. I left the unit in Darmstadt to become Operations Officer for the 558th Quartermaster Group. The 3225th reurned to the United States sometime in late 1945.

His official story of the 3225th follows :

The 3225th Quartermaster Service Company
The 3225th QM Service Co came into being as Company B of the 565th Quartermaster Service Battalion at Camp Gordon, Georgia, sometime in early 1943. The 565th QM Bn was a colored outfit with white officers. Major Robert B. Schofield was the Commanding Officer. 1st Lt. Norman N. Rosen was the Adjutant.
As new 2nd Lts William R. Holland and I were assigned as Platoon Leaders in Company D. Lt Rechnitzer had the 2nd Platoon. On June 11, 1943 Lt Holland was reassigned as Platoon Leader in Company A. On September 24, 1943 I was reassigned as Platoon Leader in Company B.
After basic training at Camp Gordon the Battalion was ordered to proceed to Camp Forrest, Tennessee, for the purpose of participating in Second Army maneuvers. Prior to departure Major Jason J. Collins succeeded Major Schofield as Bn CO. Lt Holland was designated QMC Train Quartermaster for Train 1. The strenght of the unit at that time was 23 officers and 932 enlisted men.
While at Camp Tyson, Tennessee, Lt Holland was reassigned to Company C. I was appointed Exchange Officer responsible for establishing and operating an exchange in the Bn bivouac area.
On 24 September 1943, while at Camp Tyson, Tennessee, the War Department issued an order dated 10 September 1943, Subject: “Reorganisation and Redesignation of Quartermaster Service Battalions”. Effective 0001, 25 September 1943 the 565th dropped the word “Service” from it’s name and the 4 companies were designated separate companies. Company A became the 3224th Quartermaster Service Company, Co B the 3225th, Co C the 3326th and Co D the 3227th.
The new Table of Organization and Equipment (T/0&E) was 10-67. It called for the CO to be a Captain, with a 1st Lt as Executive Officer, and two platoon leaders, one a 1ste Lt and the other a 2nd Lt Until the war ended there were never more than 3 officers in the Company.
The two platoons were divided into 2 sections of 4 twelve man squads. There were 19 men in the company headquarters which included cooks, truck drivers, clerk, bugler and supply peronnel. Total Enlisted was 219 which included the 1st Sgt.
Our function was to provide military personnel for general labor and to supervise an operation requiring the use of civilian personnel. Normal assignment was as required in the combat zone or in the communication zone where civilian labor is not available. It was expected that the QM Svc Co could handle approximately 800 tons of assorted supplies a day.
Sometime shortly thereafter a Lt Colonel named Jacky became Bn CO and the Adjutant a Captain.
After the unit had been on maneuvers 30 days, during a very wet part of the year in Tennessee it returned to Camp Gordon to complete training prior to being shipped overseas. The required training included the infiltration course which consisted of crawling through barbed wire fences with machine gun fire overhead at about 3 feet. There was also the required 25 mile march with full field pack.
Following this intensive training the 3225th, to which Lt Holland had now been assigned, and under the command of Captain Norman Schroeder, was placed on alert for shipment overseas. Our first destination was Camp Myles Standish (Boston).
While at Camp Gordon and prior to departure there, quite a few men who were absent without leave. The desire to return home for a quick visit before leaving for overseas was very strong. The punishment, on their return, was restriction to the company area for 45 days.
On the day of departure for Myles Standish the unit was “evicted” from the barracks early in the morning so that the buildings could be fumigated. As a consequence the men were forced to sit alongside a road leading to the railroad station and across the street from a Post Exchange. Some of the men, who apparently were looking for something to do, took over the PX by turning off the lights. When order was restored the PX was closed for the rest of the day. Finally at 9:30PM the unit moved out to the railroad station.
At Myles Standish the unit boarded a converted Castle liner that had been used on the London to Cape Town run. The ship was named the Stirling Castle. Unfortunately the 3225th was put in the A hold, which is as far below deck as possible. The ventilation and conditions were very poor. Fortunately the unescorted trip to Liverpool lasted only 5 days.
As the last unit leaving the ship we noticed that a great many other enlisted men were leaving behind their weapons. As a result quite a few members of the 3225th left the ship with a rifle over each shoulder. Our issue carbines were being augmented with Springfields for which we were not accountable.
From Liverpool we left for southeastern England and our destination which was Maiden Newton, Devon, a few miles northwest of Dorchester. We were in Area D of the staging area for the upcoming invasion of Europe and Christmas was at hand.
Our mission at Maiden Newton was to establish a railhead for the distribution of Class I (rations) supplies to units in the general vicinity. One of the units supplied was the 305th Station Hospital. We also became a salvage collection point.
The railhead was designed around a long oval inside which long hospital style tents were erected. Each tent was used for a specific type ration. According to the Salvage section SOP salvage was to be left at tent X 19.
The operation at Maiden Newton was somewhat uneventful in that it went well. We inventoried every Sunday enabling the railhead to be resupplied prior to Thursday when most units would be requisitioning their next weeks rations. We improved on the collection of salvage by setting up a cot repair station. The Cot, folding canvas, was easiliy damaged and also easily repaired. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was prepared and we were in the cot repair business. We also managed the repair and maintenance of field ranges (cooking stoves). When the LST’s with combat engineers were sunk by some German E boats off Slapton Sands we received that salvage so we were quite aware of the incident shortly after it happened. In fact some of the clothes we received were still wet.
Lt Holland was placed on detached service at Portland Bill, along with one platoon. The detachment was used to practice loading LST’s. The work consisted primarily of loading rations and gasoline. The day the troops being loaded had American flags on their uniforms was one day before the invasion began. Back at the railhead Captain Schroeder was relieved of command and replaced by 1st Lt Clawson A. Wilder. 1st Lt Rechnitzer succeeded him on 19 August 1944.
By that time the Normandy invasion was well in hand and the staging areas in England were being disbanded. Our unit was relieved and sent to Cornwall were we were “parked” with nothing to do except try to keep dry. Finally we were ordered onto the Continent. Lt Holland proceeded ahead with the vehicles and heavy equipment. Is was mid-November 1944.
We boarded a channel type passenger ship at Southhampton and set sail for Le Havre. The ship under the command of Royal Navy reservists arrived too late to enter the bombed out port. The ship was anchored outside the harbor over night. The next morning it was discovered that the ship had swung completely about on its bow anchors leaving the anchor chains crossed. It was not until late in the day that problem was corrected.
When we finally reached the port and disembarked it was dark. We marched seemingly all over town, up one long hill because I think we were intentionally given the wrong directions and back down. We finally reached a small staging area type camp where we again were parked for two weeks. Rations were in tight supply at that place because we had only two meals a day and both consisted of two sandwiches. One made with Spam and the other with jam.
When we finally left it was by freight train. The cars were the typical 40 and 8 French rail cars so well remembered by the soldiers of World War I and the VFW. We ate and slept on those cars for three weeks while we were enroute to our destination in Maastricht, Holland.
I was in the car with the Company Headquarters. Along the way we “requisitioned” a stove so that we might have some heat. Every time the train stopped everyone got off. Along the way the train came to a hill too steep for the engine so the train was cut in half so that it could pull a half over at a time.
When we finally reached Huy, Belgium, we were in the combat zone. Ammunition was issued to all enlisted men. I traded one of our surplus carbines for a M-3 sub-machine gun that the Railway Train Officer (RTO) no longer cared to carry. Huy was in the Ardennes campaign area and the Battle of the Bulge was under way.
We reached our destination on Christmas eve, 1944. The three week train ride had been miserable and everyone was glad to get off. We were warmly greeted by the resident and Lt Holland who was standing on the platform when the train rolled in.
The mission we were immediately asigned was to establish a 1 day reserve of gasoline and rations for the 9th Army in the event it had to fall back. The plan was to stack 200.000 5 gallon gasoline cans in stacks of 20.000 gallons along a three mile stretch of concrete pavement on a road leading east out of Zepperen, Belgium. 600.000 rations would be stored under tarps in a yard in Zepperen.
As soon as the men were quartered in school buildings of the local Catholic church the gasoline and rations started coming. When the trucks stopped arriving it was clear that we did not have all that we were supposed to have. When I refused to sign for these stocks as raquested by the Battalion to which we were assigned additional supplies were forth coming. Since there was no accountability in the combat zone I again declined to sign for the million gallons of gasoline and the rations. When I discovered that the Operations Officer was also a Phillips Petroleum Co employee the problem seemed to disappear.
With the gasoline and rations in place our mission became one of guarding them around the clock. It was so very cold that January that the best we could do was mount two hour guard tours whic meant that there was an almost constant changing of the guard.
One guard, Pfc Mann thought that he was being challenged or threatened by a white soldier visiting a home near his post. He killed one soldier and wounded another. He was court martialled and sentenced to a year in the stockade. Another soldier named Hunter accidentally shot himself in the foot, the bullet going between two toes. Since a self inflicted wound was the basis for an automatic court martial and I felt the wound was truly accidental I did manage to get him off. Luckily, the Evacuation Hospital to which he was taken had also come over on the Sterling Castle.
Another soldier went beserk and held all of us in a non-coms meeting hostage until we could get him calmed down. He was later sent home on a Section 8 discharge.
While we were headquartered in Zepperen, a V-1 (German rocket) stopped running and came to earth in a nearby farm yard. The explosoin blew out windows in the orderly room. No one was injured. A nearby AAA battery shot down 7 of 8 German fighters trying to attack a P-47 base not far from Zepperen.
During our stay in Zepperen we also ran out of food when a supply ship hit a mine in the harbor at Anwerp. We managed to scrounge food from the airbase. Local farmers also contributed potatoes. For a number of days the officers ate last.
By the end of the month when the Allied forces were able to resume the offensive we also were relieved and moved eastward to Monchen-Gladbach, crossing the Rhine someplace north of Dusseldorf and finally on to Kassel. Following Zepperen we simply operated gasoline supply points dispensing 5 gallon cans to requisitioning units. Some where in Germany, on 1 March 1945, I was promoted Captain.
The reserve setup in Zepperen was moved by Communications Zone (ComZ) personnel whose activities were captured on a photograph printed in a book about WWII logistics in Europe called “American Enterprise in Europe”.
By the time we reached Kassel the war in Europe was at an end. The 9th Army was disbanded and the 3225th was assigned to the 7th Army. We moved south to an abandoned German airbase that was strewn with unexploded 20mm cannon shells. Redeployment of both units and officers to the Pacific theatre was in full swing.
While on the airbase all of our officers were reassigned except for the CO and the troop strenghts of … increased to 250. With the war over and time on our hands quite a few men went AWOL which resulted in quite a few court martials on their return. Later we were moved to Darmstadt where we supervised some Hungarian troops handling food supplies. Again time was heavy on our hands. Despite the No-Fraternization edict of General Eisenhower there was a great deal of contact with German women which resulted in uncontrollable cases of veneral disease.
Sometime late that summer I was relieved of my command and transferred to the 558th QM Group as Operations Officer, Mannheim, Germany. The 3225th Quartermaster Service Company must have returned that Fall as I brought the 3224th home in March of 1946.
Paul H. Rechnitzer
LtC QMC-USAR (ret)
0-1589455
P.S. : The 3225th earned 3 battle stars: Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. Unfortunately there was no official note of the Ardennes campaign on any individual or company records. Captain Rechnitzer received credit for the Ardennes campaign when he applied for it noting that the unit had been in Huy during the correct time period.

Another eyewitness, Rexall Meier (1922 Wisconsin – 2005) was a TEC5 high speed radio operator for the 922nd Engineer Aviation Regiment in retreat because of German pressure during the Battle of the Bulge and remembers his days in Zepperen:

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Rex on sentry duty 1st January 1945, primary school for boys, Roosbeekstraat

…Two days before Christmas, December 23rd, we hastily moved to Zepperen, Belgium. Here we moved into a Catholic School and Convent. We were treated royally by the Sisters of the Order and they made our Christmas one to be remembered. On New Year’s Day we sustained our third casualty. Our head cook, being from the South, had an inborn hatred for black people. He, having celebrated New Year’s Eve in excess, walked down the road to a Negro Quartermaster Depot. He walked up to the guard on duty and knocked the gun from is hand. The guard picked the gun up and proceeded to empty the 16 shot clip into our cook. An inquest was held, but the guard was cleared of any charges. It was while in this area of Belgium that some of us were granted a three pass to Brussels. Five of us, in those three days, consumed 15 bottles of Cognac. We did enjoy it. Early in February we received orders to proceed to Aachen…

 

Sources :
– Letters from, talks with and historical text by Paul H. RECHNITZER, Lt.Col. QMC USAR (Ret.) and Area Sales Manager, Philllips Petroleum Co. (Ret.), Sagle Idaho, 2002
www.ixengineerscommand.com and Memoirs, Rexall MEIER, Veterans History Project, The Library of Congres, American Folklife Center
Zepperen in Twee Grote Oorlogen, Zepperen : Remacluskring, 1994, p. 288-294.

Remacluskring Zepperen
versie 29 april 2018

Wereldoorlog II

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