Post WWI Belgium Honors American War Dead

On November 11, 1918, the guns of World War I fell silent, but the work for some was just beginning – the work of bringing home the bodies of America’s fallen.

Edward J. Bayon was one man doing that work. Bayon reported in a short memoir that in April of 1921, he was assigned by the Graves Registration Service to escort a convoy of three barges from Porte Moselle, France to Antwerp, Belgium. The barges were carrying 952 caskets bearing the bodies of America’s war dead.

On April 22 at Riviere, Belgium, Bayon and the barge crews were met by the “whole town,” including the mayor and other dignitaries carrying flags and flowers. The grateful Belgians placed wreaths on the barges and spread the word to the towns ahead that the fallen Yanks were coming. Two days later, on the approach to Liege, Belgium, Bayon said that “crowds were beginning to line the banks.” The convoy stopped at Liege and received a reception that must have moved more than one man on the convoy to tears.

On entering Liege a salute of cannons was fired and a cavalry regiment met us and escorted us on both sides of the canal into the city. Bugles sounded the Belgium taps as thousands of people lined the banks and bridges over the canal. At the last lock, before the center of town was reached, a Military band boarded the first barge and played dirges soft & low. Everyone was uncovered and many women were kneeling praying and weeping…

The barges were then literally covered with beautiful wreaths and flowers. The band then played the American and Belgium anthems as we proceeded to the next lock with the cavalry still accompanying us. At this lock a repetition of the reception occurred with school children, boys dressed in blue and girls in white lined along the banks with flags.

Six days after the honors were bestowed on the American war dead passing through Liege, the convoy arrived at Antwerp. Bayon then turned the 952 fallen heroes over to the next guardian on their slow, long-awaited, and much deserved trip home.

Happy Veteran’s Day, and again, thanks to all those that have done their duty in defense of this Great Country.

To read Edward J. Bayon’s full account of his journey, please visit this link at the Veterans History Project.

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