GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – At the Gettysburg National Cemetery, you’ll find row upon row of headstones – all white, all the same shape, all decorated with wreaths for the holidays; all atop men who died too young fighting for their country.
Most are from the Civil War, but not all.
“Note the date of death on that one,” licensed battlefield guide Stuart Dempsey said as he walked among the graves.
It reads December 7, 1941.
“One of the first casualties of the United States military in the Second World War,” Dempsey said.
But Dempsey is especially interested in Private First Class Frederick Clark’s resting place. Clark was from Pennsylvania and died in an infamous massacre during the Battle of the Bulge.
Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of his death.
Clark’s lightly-armed company was overrun by heavily fortified German SS troops near Malmedy, Belgium. Clark was shot while he tried to surrender. The rest of Clark’s Battery B 285th Field Artillery Battalion were herded into a nearby field. Without warning, the Nazis opened fire.
“They systematically executed over 80 of those men,” Dempsey said.
It became known as the Malmedy Massacre and the rampage lasted a few days. In all, 350 U.S. soldiers who had surrendered and 100 Belgian citizens were ruthlessly slaughtered.
“It was absolutely a war crime,” Dempsey said.
Word of the massacre spread among the American troops and crime scenes were preserved. Bodies, including Clark’s, were recovered in the snowy killing field a month later.
The SS leader Joachim Peiper was convicted of war crimes after the war for his role in the Malmedy Massacre. He was sentenced to death but released after nine years. He eventually retired to a French village. He tried to anyway.
“On July 14, 1976, persons unknown, but possibly former members of the French resistance, attacked his home and Peiper died in that attack,” Dempsey said.
Clark’s flag-draped casket was returned from Belgium and he now lays with his brothers in arms at Gettysburg.
“His sacrifice is one among thousands in this cemetery, but it’s a microcosm of that sacrifice,” Dempsey said.
The Malmedy Massacre is a mostly forgotten footnote in history, but Clark is not.
“Every December, as well as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I leave a little flag at his grave,” Dempsey said. “A little token of remembrance, nothing more.”