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For decades, Jenny Abeels was the only person visiting an American grave in Belgium.
Cesar Vanherreweghen, one of few living resistance fighters who served with Roger, Mac and Jerry, said 400 people were mobilized in St. Marcoult to train in guerrilla operations against the Nazis. Mac and Jerry helped with these activities, such as collecting airdropped weapons and trying to sabotage the German troops. The Americans also formally joined the Secret Army, cementing even further their devotion to the anti-Nazi efforts and to Roger Abeels.
Back in Ganshoren, the rest of the Abeels family held its breath waiting for the liberating forces to arrive. Roger, in contrast, was in his element during this month of intensified resistance work, as his family would later learn.
“Dear Father and Mother,” Roger wrote in a letter dated Aug. 24, 1944, “I’ve learned I’m going on a mission. I hope I will have the good luck I’ve had up until now. If something bad happens to me, I hope it doesn’t bring you too much pain and that you don’t think I am selfish.”
Jenny shows the back page, addressed to her: “Be always a good patriot, as you have always been. If one day you have children, raise them the same way ... . I will die for an ideal. You will understand that later … . I love you very much.” As Roger seemed to sense, it would be the last letter he wrote to his family.
Ten days later, on Sept. 3, Allied troops rolled into Brussels. Roger, Mac and Jerry set out on a Secret Army mission to sabotage the German retreat, according to details pieced together by Jerry Sheridan, an amateur historian who heads American University’s Brussels program and is writing a book on Sorensen.
Somewhere along the way, either Roger or Jerry had bike problems and while the rest of the group went on ahead, they stopped. When a German tank rolled into view, the two men opened fire, having no idea that there were more tanks behind it. While the rest of the resistance members managed to escape, Roger and Jerry sought cover in a rabbit hutch and continued fighting.
A German grenade ended their last stand.
Up ahead, Sheridan said, Mac had no idea what had happened to his friends. He went as quickly as possible to the Abeels home, telling them that Roger and Jerry would soon be arriving too. Jenny remembers the joy of that moment: “You cannot imagine what that was — liberation!”
The family waited two more days, with ever-increasing dread, before someone arrived at the house with a message. Jenny remembers being outside and hearing her mother scream. “I came in, I said ‘what’s happened?’” Jenny’s voice fails her and she continues in a whisper. “And she said, ‘Roger and Jerry are dead.’”
“I always say ‘this time I won’t cry,’” she said, as tears spilled from her eyes. “But I loved them so much.”