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Remembering a forgotten World War II story

For decades, Jenny Abeels was the only person visiting an American grave in Belgium.

“Oh, I loved those two guys, Mac and Jerry,” Jenny said. “My mother [Clementine Abeels] did too, especially Jerry,” who was a few years older than Mac and quite a bit more genteel. “Jerry used to call her Mama,” Jenny recounted, “and he would say ‘Mama, I am content here. I want to stay with you until the war is over.’”

That was the Secret Army’s plan. Though the Belgian resistance had succeeded in spiriting hundreds of Allied servicemen safely out of Nazi-held territory, by the time Mac and Jerry came, the organization concluded the Allies were on their way and it would be safer to hide the men and wait for liberation.

The group spent a good deal of time in the attic. The trapeze swing which the airmen used to “practice their gymnastics” still hangs there, a lonely relic in a room now used for storage.

Jerry also spent a lot of time staring at a photo of his new bride, Nora Lee. The couple had only spent five days as a married couple before Jerry left for war.

The boys quickly became restless in the confines of the Abeels’ home and yard, Jenny said, and wanted to walk in the city. Mac claimed they spoke French well enough to fly under the radar, which still makes Jenny laugh as she imitates their American-accented “Bonjour, Madame.” But they stayed in, except for one quick tour of the nearby Basilica, which infuriated her father when he found out.

Arthur Abeels didn’t want to push the family’s luck — there was a certain fate for those found hiding enemies of the Third Reich. “We knew it,” Jenny said. “We knew if we were caught, we would be killed.” Other families who were sheltering servicemen had been arrested, she said, including one that had earlier hidden Jerry.

The Germans never did come to number 19. What did arrive in early August, however, was the third summons for Roger to turn himself in for German work camp. After that, the Secret Army spirited Roger and the Americans to the organization’s headquarters in the village of St. Marcoult, about 30 miles southwest of Brussels.