James "Aubrey" Stewart & the The Wereth 11
Mineral Veterans Day parade to honor fallen Piedmont soldier
KEYSER, W.Va. — The Mineral County Veterans Day Parade this year will honor a Piedmont soldier who was murdered at the hands of German SS forces on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge.
In its fourth year, the parade traditionally honors a Mineral County native who has distinguished himself or herself in military service to their country.
This year's honoree, TEC4 James "Aubrey" Stewart, was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart after losing his life on Dec. 17, 1944. Stewart was one of 11 soldiers who were tortured and bayoneted to death by the Nazi SS in a frozen field outside Wereth, Belgium.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Stewart, he was a graduate of Howard High School and a member of Waldon AME Church in Piedmont. He gained local admiration as a pitcher for the Piedmont Giants baseball team, and worked at the Luke mill of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company (now NewPage) prior to entering the service.
During World War II, he served in England, France, Germany and Belgium as a member of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion.
During his tour in Belgium, he and 10 fellow soldiers became separated from their unit as they attempted to elude German armor and infantry units. They happened upon a family farm near Wereth and the occupants of the farm offered the soldiers food and shelter for the night.
As the next day dawned, however, a group of Nazis captured the 11 soldiers and forced them to sit in the cold and mud in front of their Jeep until they decided their fate.
The Nazis then forced the men to march into a cow pasture behind the farm house, where they tortured and bayoneted them to death. The soldiers' brutally battered bodies, covered by the snowfall of an especially harsh winter, were not recovered until the spring thaw.
Although the family that had helped the men erected a small memorial on the spot where they died, the sacrifice of the young black soldiers went mostly unnoticed until 1994, when a Wereth villager started the campaign to raise funds for a larger memorial to the "Wereth 11."
That memorial was officially dedicated on May 23, 2004, in Wereth. On the memorial, in addition to a brief accounting of the soldiers' fate, are the names of the 11 men who lost their lives on that cold Belgian winter morning.
Keyser attorney Roy Hardy, who has chaired the Veterans Day Parade for the past four years, said the parade committee chose to honor Stewart this year because he was part of "an overlooked piece of history."
"He's one of our own, and he deserves to be remembered," he said.
The parade is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 10 so as not to interfere with the various Veterans Day observances to be held throughout the area on Nov. 11.
Hardy is currently seeking participants, including bands, civic organizations, veteran's groups, etc. Anyone wishing to sign up may do so by calling his office at (304) 788-2354.
"The Keyser High School Band has already confirmed that they'll be there," he said.
Liz Beavers, Cumberland Times-News
The following is an excerpt from a press release sent out by the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau on July 6, 2010 entitled, “WWII Film to be Shot in Washington County: ‘Wereth Massacre’ to Tell the Story of 11 African-American Field Artillery Soldiers Killed in Battle of the Bulge”. The press release pertains to a PBS documentary being made on the event. A portion of the press release also provides a history of the unit to which James "Aubrey" Stewart belonged. This excerpt follows:
About the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion:
The 333rd Field Artillery Battalion was an African-American unit of the then racially segregated United States Army during World War II. The battalion landed at Normandy at the beginning of July 1944 and saw continuous combat as corps artillery throughout the summer. Beginning in October 1944 it was located in Schoenberg, Belgium, initially supporting the 2nd Division and its replacement the 106th Division. At the onset of the Battle of the Bulge they were eleven miles behind the front lines. With the rapid advance of the Germans the unit was ordered to withdraw further west but C and Service Battery were ordered to stay behind to give covering fire to the 106th Division. On Dec 17th they were overrun with most killed or captured. The remnants of the 333rd FAB were ordered to Bastogne and incorporated into its sister unit the 969th Field Artillery Battalion. Both units provided fire support for the 101st Airborne Division in the Siege of Bastogne, subsequently being awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Eleven of its soldiers became separated from the unit after it was overrun early on the second day of the battle. In an effort to reach American lines they made their way to the hamlet of Wereth, Belgium, where a farmer, Mathias Langer, sheltered them. However, later that day, a Nazi sympathizer revealed their presence to members of the 1st Waffen SS Panzer Division. They surrendered, but were taken to a field, where they were tortured, maimed, and shot on December 17th, 1944.
A memorial now stands on the site of their murders, dedicated to the 11 and all African-American Soldiers who fought in the European theatre. It is believed to be the only memorial to African-American soldiers of WW II in Europe.
The 333rd Field Artillery Battalion suffered more casualties during the Battle of the Bulge than any other artillery unit in the VIII Corps. Six officers (including the commanding officer) and 222 enlisted men became either casualties or prisoners of war. In 1960 the then integrated battalion was expanded into an artillery regiment. In 1971 it was redesignated a field artillery regiment.
Note: James Stewart's father was the first African-American to be employed by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, now NewPage Corporation, in Luke, Maryland.
For more on Stewart see West Virginia Memory vets site
Allegany County, Maryland
African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.
Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008