Cumberland Goes To War
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Cumberland Goes To War is a community heritage project coordinated and promoted by Allegany County Tourism in partnership with the Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority, the City of Cumberland, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce. Funded in part by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, the Allegany County Commissioners and the City of Cumberland. More information about the project and/or the images in the archive can be obtained by emailing info@cumberlandgoestowar.com.


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Aubrey_Stewart
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Registered: August 2008
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James "Aubrey" Stewart lived in Piedmont, WV and worked at Westvaco. He was 36 years old when he enlisted in the Army.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Stewart was one of 11 African-America soldiers from the 333rd who were captured in Wereth, Belgium by the 1st SS Panzer Division belonging to Kampfgruppe Hansen.
The men were tortured, executed and left in a ditch beside the road on December 17, 1944. Since the Germans occupied the town, the Belgians were afraid to bury them. They lay in the frozen ditch for over two months. The identities of the murderers remain unknown, and the perpetrators were never punished for this crime.
The eleven men each received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Medal of Honor.
The VFW in Piedmont, WV is named for Aubrey Stewart.


July 25, 2010

What kind of man would have done it?
Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News The Cumberland Times-News Sun Jul 25, 2010, 08:00 AM EDT


— James Aubrey Stewart had a family, friends and a good job at the paper mill in Luke, and he was too old to be drafted.


However, he volunteered for the U.S. Army during World War II — helping to defend the country where, in the eyes of many people, he was only a second-class citizen ... or worse.


“What kind of man would do that?” asked T.J. Coleman. “It wasn’t his war, and it wasn’t his time to fight. Why did he do it?”


I thought of some people who could have answered that question, but they weren’t around to do so.


For more than 60 years, Stewart has been one of America’s largely forgotten heroes, even in his hometown of Piedmont, W.Va.


He hasn’t been forgotten everywhere, though, and I was in Piedmont last Sunday as some folks he never met launched a project that is designed to restore him and 10 of his buddies to a place in the hearts of those who owe them a greater debt than can ever be repaid.


People who are familiar with the history of World War II know about the Malmedy massacre during the Battle of the Bulge, when 84 captured American soldiers (including Oscar Jordan of Hyndman, Pa.) were gunned down by German SS troops in Belgium.


Far less known was a similar incident at Wereth, Belgium, where Stewart and 10 other American prisoners were savagely tortured and killed by SS soldiers. Was their murder ignored because they were black? I don’t know. That’s another answer I can’t give you.


The Aubrey Stewart Project was unveiled at a “Unity Day” described by its organizers as a way to honor all veterans and to “celebrate our differences as people and not isolate ourselves because of them.”


It aims to educate people, especially the young, about what Stewart and others have done to secure what many take for granted.


Coleman said the only known monument to the Wereth Eleven on American soil is in Massachusetts, erected by Central Massachusetts Chapter 22, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.


Massachusetts is an appropriate place for it, considering that it was the men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry who changed the way America viewed black troops.


Those men would understand why Aubrey Stewart did what he did.


Formed during the Civil War as a largely experimental outfit to see how “colored” troops would perform, the 54th Massachusetts assaulted a strongly fortified Confederate position at Battery Wagner in South Carolina.


They were led by white officers, including Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who at first did not want that command. His mother talked him into taking it. At Battery Wagner, he told them, “I want you to prove yourselves. The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight.”


In the face of overwhelming firepower, 272 of them died. Shaw led them in the attack and was shot to death on the fort’s parapet. Through sheer determination, a number of them actually made it into the fort and were killed there.


The dead black troopers were put into a mass grave, and Shaw’s body was put with them as an act of disrespect for his leading black soldiers.


Shaw’s father later said, “We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company.”


It is astounding what people can do, when they are held in doubt but are given the opportunity and means to prove themselves.


The 54th Massachusetts performed with such courage that there no longer could be any doubt as to the worth of black troops. Recruitment among African-Americans soared, and they have been contributing to the cause of freedom ever since.


Aubrey Stewart and the other 10 served in what was still a segregated army, left behind to destroy arms and equipment during a retreat from advancing German troops. They took refuge at a farm, but were betrayed by a collaborator and captured. After being tortured for hours, they were killed and their bodies dumped into a roadside ditch, where they remained for two months.


Markers dedicated to Stewart and the others were put up by the townspeople of Wereth, remembering and honoring them as liberators who saved their town by refusing to say who had taken them in.


Bill Price Jr., another of the organizers, said Adda Rikken was a young girl in Wereth at the time of the massacre. “She was 17 when she adopted Mister Aubrey’s grave,” he said. “She took care of it personally until she died last January. Now, she belongs to us. We have adopted her and will go some day to visit her grave.”


Rikken once said of the Wereth Eleven, “White mama cries, black mama cries.”


Besides Stewart, the others were Curtis Adams, Mager Bradley, George Davis, Thomas Forte, Robert Greene, Jim Leatherwood, Nathaniel Moss, George Moten, William Pritchett and Due Turner.


“Now,” Price said. “we are hoping to get just rewards for the rest of them.”


The only member of their families who could be located was Pritchett’s daughter Elsie, who attended the Unity Day event. So did some of Stewart’s relatives and others of all ages. The speakers were eloquent, and what they said was moving. I told them this was because the Lord had answered their prayers and put the words into their hearts, and they listened to Him.


The flag that had covered Stewart’s coffin was retrieved from a cardboard box in which it was stored for many years at a military base and given a proper home: folded in military fashion and placed in a triangular case that’s designed for the purpose.


On display were Stewart’s decorations — including a Purple Heart — and several works of art, one of which shows his ghostly figure standing on a tree-lined country road.


Its caption reads, “Aubrey Stewart has begun his journey to receive what he was never given in life ... Honor and Dignity. He is on his road to receiving what he’s never received in death ... Eternal Rest.”


Some active-duty soldiers and a number of veterans were present, as were two World War II re-enactors in a vintage Jeep. They’d heard about Unity Day and wanted to be a part of it.


“No matter who they were,” said one, “we can’t forget any of them.”


This was an example of how people should get together and do what they believe is worth doing ... never giving up, no matter how difficult it seems. You can learn more about the Aubrey Stewart Project by Googling it on Facebook.


Because of a few men and women who as children played on the same streets where Aubrey Stewart played, we have not just one new hero to inspire us, but 11.


Thanks for what you did, Mister Aubrey ... you and your buddies.


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