By Jeremy Scott
Faith can be an amazing thing. It can uplift, reinforce, inspire, and motivate. In a cave located in Maastricht, Netherlands on Christmas day 1944, American Soldier gathered to revel in their faith, while they were thoroughly entrenched in hell.
Robert J Wisler, a Bryan resident and World War II veteran had an amazing life. Before his passing on June 18th, 2019, Bob had been a son, husband, father of 5 children, grandfather of 15, great grandfather to 24, business owner, and avid sports fan (especially Notre Dame Football).
In March 1943, Bob was drafted when the world was at war. German forces had laid waste to most of Europe, an unstoppable machine of destruction. 16 million men and women joined the American Armed Services during this time to ensure freedom and to crush the oppression plaguing the entire continent.
Bob rose to the rank of staff sergeant in the 154th Antiaircraft Artillery Operation, a detachment of the 55th AAA Brigade in the 3rd Army. He served as a supply sergeant, ensuring the troop would get the necessary supplies to continue the fight. Bob and his unit arrived in Europe via Omaha Beach in Normandy. Bob arrived 5 days after the invasion on June 6th 1944, when the waters still ran red with the blood of brave American soldiers, and bodies continued to float in the water from the horrendous battle to seize the important deployment spot.
In early December of 1944, Bob’s unit settled in Maastricht, a city in the Limburg region in southern Netherlands. It was the first Dutch city liberated by the Allied Forces in September 1944. Bob was stationed on grounds owned by the Brothers of the Immaculate Conception, known as de Schark. On the grounds were a spiderweb of caves that were used to quarry limestone for centuries. During the war the caves were used to protect 780 priceless works of art from falling into German hands or being destroyed, including Rembrandt’s “the Night Watch”.
In was in this spot that a makeshift alter was constructed and the Brotherhood announced a Midnight Mass at de Schark. Approximately 250 soldiers attended the mass, many coming from the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge. Sadly, it was the last service many of them had. Soldiers signed their names to the cave wall, and hung a 48-star American Flag. The signatures and the Flag remain intact. Bob celebrated his 20th birthday in Maastricht on Christmas Day 1944.
Fast forward 70 years, and Bob returned to Maastricht. This time Bob brought along his five sons, four daughters-in-law, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren with him. As one of only three remaining veterans, and the only one that could physically make the trip, Bob was warmly welcomed and honored at the annual commemoration mass that has been held since 1994.
In a speech Bob made during the ceremony he said “I will always remember the hospitality that you, the people of Maastricht, showed me in December, 1944. I am grateful to be able to be here with you. Thank you for all efforts through the years to commemorate this Christmas Mass of 1944 that was so important to us back then and to keep alive the memory of those who served during the war. May it remind future generations of the sacrifices made by generations past and inspire them to work even harder for peace.”
Jeremy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org