BOSTON (CBS) – Seventeen local WWII veterans are on a journey back to Belgium to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. The trip was made possible by Marine veteran Andrew Biggio who set up an online fundraiser hoping to bring back as many men as he could. “I thought maybe we’d raise $10,000, I’d bring a few veterans over,” Biggio said. “Five months later we raised more than $70,000.”
One of the men making the journey back to Belgium is Charlie Sanderson of Lunenburg. The 94-year-old took some convincing to go back. “I was so glad to get outta there the first time. Do I really wanna go back over there?” he said.
Sanderson was a Technician 5th Grade in the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion. His introduction to the war was the Normandy invasion. “My truck was the first one to be unloaded,” Sanderson said. As the Germans fired at his ship, he jokes that he was more afraid of the water. “I had a bit of a problem,” he said. “I didn’t know how to swim.”
By December of 1944, Sanderson was in the Ardennes Forest. The Germans were making a massive push with some 200,000 troops into Belgium. Sanderson recalls being surrounded in the Battle of the Bulge, and his lieutenant ordering men to stay and fight. “He told everybody, ‘we’re gonna fight to the finish. The first man who turns his back to run I’ll shoot him in the back!’”
General George Patton eventually arrived, offering the support Sanderson’s unit desperately needed. “He’s the one who freed us and saved our necks,” Sanderson said.
The average age of the 17 veterans making the journey is 94 years-old, and each man is traveling with a family member. The money raised covers the cost of their travel, food, and accommodations for six days. Some 20 volunteers are also making the trip on their own dime.
Trip organizer Andrew Biggio’s passion for veterans extends beyond this trip from Boston to Belgium. He has interviewed more than 200 WWII veterans for his book titled, The Rifle. In it, veterans share their stories of returning from combat before signing the M1 Garand.
Biggio says this anniversary may be the last one these 17 veterans can be a part of. “We’re losing these guys rapidly,” Biggio said. “For most of these men coming on this trip, this is the 75th anniversary, there will not be an 80th for them.”