A Story of Bastogne
The article reproduced below appeared in the Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram in 1946, recounting the experience in Bastogne (Belgium) of Joseph Charles Syiek and included the text of a letter he sent home to his parents describing his escape. Some 40 years later, his path through the Ardennes forest was rediscovered by his son, Joseph Alexander Syiek and his wife Mary who visited the area on their honeymoon and brought back the pictures included here.

 


US troops marching through the Ardennes forest (photo from The National Archives)

 


American troops on the run in the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge (photo from HBO's "Band of Brothers")

Ample evidence that many of our fighting' men turn their thoughts to God in the dark hours of battle is contained in an interesting letter written by Pvt. Joseph C. Syiek, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Syiek of 59 Norfolk Street, who escaped the Germans in the siege of Bastogne.
He tells of his escape and finding his way to a Shrine where the Stations of the Cross were carved out of the mountainside. And there while German shells burst about him and bullets whistled overhead, he prayed for courage to endure, and is now in a hospital in England recovering from his wounds. Telling of the famous battle in which American troops, given up for lost, were rescued, Pvt. Syiek writes:
"Since my last letter home, I have been in contact with the enemy, almost constantly. I could write and tell you of many horrible sights, of much suffering, or of my many narrow escapes. But instead, let me write of my Walk With God:
"Our outfit pulled into the valley Monday night. The ground was soft and we were not able to pull the vehicles off the road for fear that they would sink. All that night, the Germans laid in on us with artillery fire. Early Tuesday morning we were surrounded and they began to close in on us. As the day rolled on the enemy showered us with mortar, artillery and machine gun fire. Men were going mad.
"There was no organization, there was no way to go, we were all scared. Our tanks and trucks were the main targets; men ran to the slopes that formed the walls of "Death Valley." There was one of three things to do. Fight a hopeless battle to the last man, surrender, or try an escape through the enemy in our rear. I chose the latter, and since my squad was disorganized and my company scattered, I asked for no one's permission. Other men were off to escape, but I took a different direction.
"I took a narrow path on the slope that led into a pine grove. Ten or fifteen yards in I noticed a stone stairway covered with pine needles, climbing and winding up a hill steeper and higher than Norfolk Street. At the first bend was the first Station of the Cross. It was carved from white rock mounted on a marble block. I  blessed myself and went on up, and at each bend was another Station.
"Just before I reached the top, and yet not in full view of the head of the stairway my eyes laid upon a full size statue of Mother Mary. A few more steps, Our Lord on the Cross. As I approached the Crucifix a German burp gun opened up on me. With the blessing, I asked our Lord to forgive me for my sins and to guide me on my way. From that moment, my path was shielded by Christ. I am sure of that because no man could have come out the way I did and still live to tell about it. I had shells land close enough to throw me off my feet and its deadly shrapnel sing by me.
"I prayed for the courage to endure all this. I pray now for more to carry me through. Dad, if you never had a reason to believe in our Church and our prayers, you hear me tell you that only God has kept me and only God will return me to you."
Click on thumbnails
to see larger picture
Photos from Visit to Bastogne, September 1986
Battle Memorial, Bastogne Pescatorre de la Grotto
In September 1986, Mary Syiek stands at the Battle Memorial in the center of Bastogne. None of the available maps or tourist guides mentioned any Stations of the Cross. On a back road outside of Bastogne,  we discovered "Pescatorre de la Grotto" ~ Fishing Pond of the Grotto ~ and spotted the first Station against the forest on the far bank. "Ten or fifteen yards in I noticed a stone stairway covered with pine needles, climbing and winding up a hill steeper and higher than Norfolk street." "At the first bend was the first Station of the Cross. It was carved from white rock mounted on a marble block."
Christ on the Cross
"I  blessed myself and went on up, and at each bend was another Station." "Just before I reached the top, and yet not in full view of the head of the stairway was a full size statue of Mother Mary." (visible in the distance at the top of the hill near left edge of photo) "A few steps more revealed Our Lord on the Cross. As I approached the Crucifix a German Burp gun opened up on me." (The statue of Christ has fallen off the Cross and lays on the ground)
Christ returned to Mary Christ in the Tomb The Resurrection
Joseph Charles Syiek may never have seen these additional statues as he raced through the woods. Here, Christ is returned to Mary after his death. Christ laid in the tomb. The Resurrection


In 2011, Joe's grand-nephew, Tim, produced a video about
Joe's Bastogne story for a class project. Click Here to watch.

Medals Awarded to Joseph C. Syiek for WWII Service


Combat Infantryman Badge

European
Campaign

American
Campaign
Victory
Medal
Occupation
Medal
Good Conduct
Medal
Presidential
Unit Emblem
Bronze Star Purple
Heart
Presidential Unit Citation
 

 

R.I.P.
After a full life, Joseph Charles Syiek passed away at age 89 in June 2010
click thumbnail to view larger picture or read his memoriam here
view other photos from his life here
 

 

 

1986 - 2013 Joseph A Syiek  All Rights Reserved