As a schoolboy three quarters of a century ago, Marcel Schmetz would regularly see open trucks rumble past to a makeshift American cemetery — filled with bodies, some headless, some limbless, blood seeping from the vehicles onto the roads that the U.S. soldiers had given their lives to liberate.
Sometimes, Schmetz said, there were over 200 bodies a day, casualties of one of the bloodiest and most important battles in World War II: T he Battle of the Bulge which started 75 years ago on Monday and effectively sealed the defeat of Nazi Germany.
"It gave me nightmares," Schmetz said. It also gave the 11-year-old the resolve that, one day, he would give something back.
"I had to do something," he said.
Fast forward to 2019, when memories are fading and relations between Europe and the United States deteriorating.
There's a rambling house and converted warehouse in the bucolic, verdant hills that were once among the worst killing grounds of World War II. Zoom in to the living-room table, where Marcel, 86,sits with his wife, Mathilde, and one of the many WWII veterans that have shared coffee and cake — and often a nip of something stronger — with them, telling stories that span generations.
"Well, I don't share them very often," said Arthur Jacobson, who was just 20 when he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. "Once in a while, somebody is interested and I tell them a little bit."
In Marcel and Mathilde's home, which also serves as the Remember Museum 39-45, "a little bit" doesn't count. Soon the former Bazooka operator was sharing stories of friends lost, ties gained, all between a chuckle and a moist eye.
For M&M, as the couple is known to fans from across the United States, remembering has become a mission in life, since memory brings understanding and friendship. They are not alone. From the shores of Normandy, where the allies first landed on D-Day, to the forests deep in the Belgian Ardennes, there remains a deep appreciation for what the soldiers did.
Yet, those people live on the scar tissue of war, where battlefields, memorials and cemeteries lie just a few miles away. That memory fades quickly the more one moves from the old front lines to European cities, where peace and prosperity has reigned for the best part of a century. The voices of the last witnesses of the war's fighting,mostly in their 90s now, are also becoming frailer by the day.
And with the growing questioning of trans-Atlantic ties and trust, the challenge to keep those bonds across the ocean intact has increased.
It makes Marcel and Mathilde's mission to connect all the more vital.
"Whoever is your president, whoever runs the show, the boys who were on the front lines, who still go out and fight for our freedoms, they need to know we appreciate them," Mathilde said.
IT GIVES ME GOOSEBUMPS
Lt. Col. Jim Moretti of the 171st Air Refueling Wing knows it well, and whenever he is in Germany on a mission he always makes the pilgrimage to Marcel and Mathilde just across the border.
The first time he thought to spend perhaps half an hour in their small museum. Then he found out that the hardware sinks into insignificance compared to the software of the place — the stories which are linked to every item on show.
"We ended up being there for 3, 4, 5 hours," he said.
Mathilde connects a face in a photograph to a veteran she met years ago and still remembers the story that makes it all relevant to the families of the fallen.
"It gives me goosebumps. It's sobering, humbling," Moretti said.
It became even better when he was able to be part of such a story himself.
THE SMALLEST OF THINGS
Softspoken local policeman Serge Fafchamps had something troubling him for a while. Through his family, he obtained a fist-sized bible that had been left behind by Pvt. Millard Weekley in a local hotel during the war, likely in the rush to reach the front line.
Like so many locals, Fafchamps is strongly aware of the sacrifices U.S. soldiers made during WWII and wanted to make a gesture, however small, to show that in the 21st century it was not forgotten.
"It was, I think, the smallest of things, it was a friendly act that I hoped would deliver some happiness to the family," he said.
Even though he got close to finding the family, there was still a missing link, and he long thought he had reached a dead end. Then, by chance, he learned of Marcel and Mathilde. Soon, they were on the case.
"I began to make these searches with the help of American friends," Mathilde said. "Then, finally, someone found the daughter," Paula Ferrell.
But they still needed someone to deliver the bible, in person. So in walked Lt. Col Moretti, who saw, as luck would have it, that Ferrell lived close to his airbase in Coraopolis, Pa.
"Of all the places in the U.S., this could not be true," Moretti said.
And one Sunday on the airbase, Ferrell and her family were handed the bible.
"It was an amazing idea. I am so thankful for that," Ferrell said of Fafchamps' kindness. Now the bible sits on a night table next to her bed, the handwriting on the opening page a palpable memory of a father who was always taciturn when it came to war stories and memories.
"He never talked about it. He was a man of few words," she said.
A new bond had been forged across the ocean. "If he was here, I'd give him a hug," she said of Fafchamps.
The policeman himself said it gave him "a sense of mission accomplished."
IT IS NOT TO FORGET THEM
The mission though, is getting tougher by the day.
Perhaps the best part of the museum is a "Red Ball Express" army supply truck, on which countless veterans have written their names. Ever more though, the owners of the white-painted signaturesare dying off. Just this week, Mathilde opened a letter informing her of yet another death.
Marcel, ever the optimist, is looking to a new generation of U.S. troops, soldiers like Moretti, to carry on the torch.
"When I look at the young soldiers who are on U.S. bases in Germany," he said, "it always reminds me of the arrival of the Americans in 1944," who had come to liberate him and his family.
"It is not to forget them. It is not to forget them, no?"
Dairy farmers on Cyprus refer to halloumi as "white gold." The salty, rubbery cheese made from goats' and sheep's milk and prized for its ability to withstand a grill without melting is the country's leading export.
Cypriot authorities have spent years trying to get the European Union to recognize halloumi, or hellim in Turkish, as a traditional product of the east Mediterranean island nation. Receiving the EU's top quality mark — the "Protected Designation of Origin" — would mean only halloumi made in Cyprus could be marketed abroad under that name.
The nation's farmers and producers want the Cyprus-specific designation to keep makers of inferior cheeses in other countries from claiming a slice of their market of over 200 million euros ($222 million). Cypriot producers say demand from overseas is projected to hit new highs in the next few years, thanks to heat-tolerant halloumi's growing popularity as a meat alternative.
However, ethnically divided Cyprus' complex politics so far have stymied the bid to protect the halloumi name. The difficulty lies in a dispute over how to lawfully get cheese made in the country's breakaway northern third to foreign markets. The self-declared Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey and goods produced there cannot be exported directly.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. The country joined the EU in 2004, but EU rules and regulations only apply to the southern, Greek Cypriot part of the island led by an internationally recognized government.
A European Parliament member from Cyprus has accused the EU's executive commission of letting the PDO application for halloumi grow moldy. The government hopes the new European Commission seated last month will find a way around the quandary.
Halloumi/hellim was put on track for an exclusive geographic designation amid much fanfare in 2015, when relaunched negotiations between the rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders brimmed with hope of delivering a deal to reunify the island as a two-zone federation.
A compromise was struck for the Bureau V eritas — a European body that certifies food and agricultural products — t o perform checks on halloumi/hellim produced on both sides of the ethnic divide to ensure it met EU health and safety standards.
But the peace talks eventually collapsed, and the application has languished since then.
The Cypriot government says the agreement foresaw the export to European markets of vetted, Turkish Cypriot-produced cheese through EU-recognized ports in the south. Britain, Sweden and Germany currently are the top three markets for Cyprus' halloumi.
But Turkish Cypriot authorities say there was no such understanding. They accuse Greek Cypriots of blocking the European Commission's effort to enable halloumi/hellim exports from the island's north.
"Turkish Cypriot producers should be able to export PDO-registered hellim/halloumi as they deem viable," Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce President Turgay Deniz said. "They should not be restricted to trading across (the dividing line) and via the ports in the south."
According to Deniz, 13 Turkish Cypriot halloumi/hellim producers export around 30 million euros ($33 million) worth of the cheese to Turkey and Gulf countries. The cheese reaches Gulf nations through Turkey.
Cyprus' Agriculture Ministry says it intends to keep pushing to clinch the exclusive mark and "to solve soon the remaining issues relating to the registration of halloumi/hellim for the benefit of all Cypriot producers."
The European Commission says it's in contact with the Cypriot government and Turkish Cypriots to "ensure an outcome."
But Cypriot European Parliament member, Costas Mavrides, alleges the Commission is "arbitrarily" stalling it's approval for halloumi to get the PDO. He said there's no legal reason for the cheese not to gain the designation and that the only step that's left is the green light from the Commission.
Mavrides is urging the Cypriot government to take the matter to the EU Court of Justice so halloumi/hellim gets the coveted moniker.
Farmers' organizations fully back the government's PDO drive for halloumi. But curiously, a segment of the cheese-making community is voicing its dissent at the cheese clinching the designation amid concerns that this could lead to job losses and shrinking revenue.
For halloumi/hellim t o secure the designation, it must conform to a Cyprus government directive that it must contain at least 51% sheep's and goats' milk. That's in line with a traditional Cypriot recipe dating back some 500 years when cows were a rare commodity. Now, the cheese is made with mostly cow's' milk.
But Cheesemakers' Association President George Petrou warns that more than one-third of the 13,000 Cypriot families in the halloumi/hellim business would find themselves out of a job if they couldn't use as much cows' milk in their cheese.
Cheese exports would drop by at least half, as production would plummet because of a current shortage of sheep and goat milk, Petrou estimated.
Petrou says cheese-makers instead want authorities to pursue a geographical origin designation whose rules are more flexible on how much cow milk can be used.
"As cheese-makers, we want a solution that won't reduce exports or lead to job losses," Petrou told The Associated Press.
Other industry groups see holes in that argument. Rejecting the idea of using less cows' milk loses sight of the long-term benefits that a PDO mark would offer Cypriot halloumi makers, says Michalis Lytras, president of the Pancyprian Farmers' Union.
The geographic designation would protect local producers from foreign competitors who might use cheaper, possibly government-subsidized cow milk to make halloumi/hellim.
A PDO designation wouldn't preclude finding solutions addressing cheesemakers' concerns, like possibly marketing halloumi/hellim made with mostly cow milk under a different name.
"We can't sacrifice those long-term benefits for short-term gains," said Lytras.
Takis Christodoulou, president of the New Farmers' Movement, says the high sheep and goat milk content appeals to health-conscious European consumers who are helping to fuel halloumi sales.
Christodoulou disputes that revenue from halloumi/hellim exports would drop as steeply as Petrou contends. He said while there may be a dip in cheese exports, PDO-designated halloumi/hellim would command higher prices in foreign markets.
"This is the natural product of Cyprus, and we couldn't be prouder of it," said Christodoulou.
A 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Mindanao Island of the Philippines at 2:11 p.m. Sunday Beijing Time, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC).
The epicenter was monitored at 6.55 degrees north latitude and 125.3 degrees east longitude.
The quake struck at a depth of about 30 km.
Three women were killed and four people injured in a fire that engulfed a four-storey residential building in the Indian capital on Saturday, police said Sunday.
The fire broke out Saturday evening at Shalimar Bagh locality, northwest of Delhi.
"Last evening a fire broke out inside a residential building which resulted in the killing of three women," a police official said. "Four people including two children were rescued."
Reports said two policemen and a firefighter were also injured during the rescue.
Atul Garg, director of Delhi Fire Services (DFS), told media the three dead women aged between 57 and 75.
"Though the women were rushed to a nearby hospital but doctors there declared them brought dead," the police official said, adding that they did not suffer burn injuries but died of asphyxiation.
According to the DFS, preliminary investigations revealed fire broke out in the kitchen on the ground floor of the house, which was locked from outside. It suddenly spread to the upper floors and trapped the occupants.
Last week a devastating fire inside an old building in the city killed 43 people and injured many others.
Chances of fire in Indian buildings are usually high as people ignore safety standards.
A recovery team landing on White Island to search for the two deceased who remained unaccounted for was not able to find the bodies while the death toll of the volcanic eruption increased to 15, the New Zealand Police said on Sunday.
It is understood that the recovery team had just 75-minutes to locate and recover the bodies that remained missing following the eruption. Only one is thought to still be on the island, the other was sighted in the water earlier in the week.
However, both underwater search throughout Saturday and land search on Sunday morning was not able to locate the deceased.
New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement told the media at a press conference that the police would not give up easily, "but there will come a time where we've done everything we can."
Meanwhile, the official death toll reached 15 over night as an another person being treated in the hospital succumbed to severe injury on Saturday night.
New Zealand will observe one minute's silence nation wide at 2:11 p.m. on Monday in honor of the victims of the White Island volcanic eruption, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday.
"Wherever you are in New Zealand, or around the world, this is a moment we can stand alongside those who have lost loved ones in this extraordinary tragedy," Jacinda Ardern said. "Together we can express our sorrow for those who have died and been hurt, and our support for their grieving families and friends."
Six bodies were recovered from the volcano island on Friday operation led by the New Zealand Police and carried out by the New Zealand Defence Force.
Altogether 47 people were on the White Island at the time of the eruption on Monday. The eruption has already caused 15 dead and multiple injuries.
Most of the survivors are in critical condition.
Both Chinese nationals injured in New Zealand's White Island volcanic eruption had recovered consciousness and were in stable condition, an official from the Chinese embassy told Xinhua.
White Island, a volcanic island, is a famous tourist attraction which people can explore by boat or by helicopter. If safety conditions permit, visitors can even enter the main volcano crater.