The Society of the Sons of Bitche was conceived during the occupation period of the 100th Infantry Division in southwestern Germany in 1945 “to commemorate the campaign for the City of Bitche and provide a social organization and program for the men who took part in the fight.”Chapter officers were to be elected by popular vote from the ranks of officers and/or enlisted men. The Society’s name was chosen to commemorate the Division’s fighting for the ancient fortress town of Bitche, a key location in the then-modern Maginot Line which had withstood all attacks for over 200 years . . . until it was captured after a three-month winter siege by the 100th Infantry Division on 16 March 1945.
Each chapter of the Society was to choose a name, the suggestion being that it designate some portion of the Battle of Bitche in which that unit was involved. Applications for chapter organization were to go through Information and Education (I&E) officers, who were to provide a roster of those entitled to be members. Colorful membership cards were printed and given to each member to designate him as a “Legitimate Son of Bitche.”
There was to be no membership fee. This Society, at its inception, was believed to be the first organization of its kind in the United States Army that was named for a World War II battle. It was to have annual social gatherings and was intended to have “no ambitions, political or otherwise.”
The first “Grand Exalted Biggest Son of Bitche” was 20-year-old Staff Sergeant Dave Swift of Attleboro, Massachusetts, of Company C., 399th Infantry Regiment, who was one of the first Centurymen to enter the city on a patrol in December 1944, and was again present at its final capture.
A five-man committee was designated to prepare a constitution for consideration by the organization. It was composed of T/4 Seymour Fellerman (Headquarters Company, 399th Infantry Regiment), of Kensington, Maryland; Corporal William J. McGee, Jr. (100th Recon Troop), of Syracuse, New York; Technical Sergeant Joseph Augello (Company D, 398th Infantry Regiment); of Ocala, Florida; Master Sergeant Leonard Maas (Service Company, 397th Infantry Regiment) of Grandville, Michigan; and Technician 4th Grade Clayton W. Howell (Service Battery, 374th Field Artillery Battalion).
In a tentative outline of the Constitution the committee proposed that membership “be extended to all men who have ever served in the 100th Infantry Division.” The Constitution was also intended to stipulate executive powers and provide for a permanent “SOB Society” in the USA.
The formal inauguration of the Society took place in July 1945, before a “wildly enthusiastic crowd of 1,300, in the Stuttgart Opera House during a gala evening program as full of pomp as anything that ever graced King Arthur’s Court,” and during which the Commanding General of the Seventh Army, Lieutenant General Wade Haislip, formally “knighted” the “first son.” The induction rites were the climax of a two-hour version of the “Sons of Bitche” summer show that was staged by the Service Company of the 398th, and which had toured the foxhole circuit while the 100th was engaged in the Bitche campaign.
Chosen as the “First Son” was Private First Class Milt Trilinsky of Company E, 398th Infantry Regiment, of St. Joseph, Missouri, who was selected for this honor because he led the Division into Bitche on 16 March 1945, thereby being the first conqueror to enter the famed fortress. He was, he admitted, terrified at his lead position in that conquest. Trilinsky, who has since changed his name to Milton Trillin and moved to West Chester, Ohio, recalled the occasion of the capture of Bitche,
“We had been warned that 88s had the road zeroed in. We’d been in a Fort Schiesseck pillbox the night before and had taken two Nazi prisoners there. It was the same pillbox in which the engineers had set off those 1,600 pounds of TNT in December. I speak German pretty well, so I was sent in to contact German-speaking residents, to get the lay of the land. I passed a large tank trap about 500 yards out of town, but there wasn’t a Heinie anywhere. Our artillery was screaming overhead and keeping the Jerries down. As I neared the main entrance, I noticed a partly-finished roadblock. With every step, I could just about feel a sniper’s bullet winging toward me. I cautiously slipped by the roadblock into town, and the first person I met was a French civilian who came rushing out, overjoyed to see the Americans there.
“He spoke German, so I asked him if there were any German soldiers left in Bitche. He said he’d been down in the cellar so long he had no way of knowing. I kept on until I came to the main drag, then turned left and ran into sniper fire. During that time a pretty dark-haired girl ran out of a house and came up to me, then threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. A civilian ran from cellar to cellar yelling ”The Americans are here!” We warned them they should stay hidden, but that didn’t matter to them. They were so glad to come up from those dingy cellars.
“I questioned a few German PWs and they said they had orders to hold the town at all costs.”
To carry out the induction rites for the honored “First Son,” General Haislip was called to the stage by the Grand Exalted Biggest, while the band played “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” As the General came up he whispered to the G.E.B. “What the heck do I do now?” Swift whispered appropriate instructions and the General picked up the glittering ceremonial sword, captured from the German commanding officer in the Battle of Bitche. After it was ostentatiously presented to him (the General) on a plush pillow by the “Grand Exalted Littlest,” William P. “Shorty” Connors of Company H, 398th Infantry Regiment, General Haislip stepped forward to stand before Pfc. Trilinsky, who knelt at the foot of the G.E.B.’s throne, and “with a flourish worthy of a king of old England, placed the sword on the right shoulder of the sweating soldier, as he proclaimed ‘I now pronounce you a Legitimate Son of Bitche’.” Before the First Son could rise, the General shook him by the hand as the crowd roared. He then called on Trilinsky to “seal his vows in schnapps.” The division band played the Stein Song and the first son struggled valiantly and successfully to complete his initiation rite. He was then escorted from the stage by Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Cox (Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 399th Infantry Regiment) of New Bern, North Carolina. General Burress, Commanding General of the 100th Infantry Division since its activation, then inducted General Haislip into the “exalted ranks” of the Society, as he handed him a specially-printed scroll “attesting his indubitable right to honorary membership” as Commander of XV Corps at the time of the capture of Bitche.
A magnificent stage setting was arranged for the evening’s program. The G.E.B. sat in regal splendor on a golden throne before the backdrop of a mural curtain that depicted the Citadel of Bitche, with the city sprawled at the foot of the hill. The Grand Exalted Littlest, dressed in gaily-colored King’s attire, sat at the G.E.B.’s left, alongside six Herald Trumpeters. The Official Beater of the Drums, Corporal Dick Singles, opened the rites with a long drum roll, followed with a trumpet call by Sergeant Lynn, Chief Blower of the Bugle, who played a revised version of “You’re in the Army, Now!”
Town Crier Joe Tanory (Service Company, 398th Infantry Regiment), of Birmingham, Alabama, shouted the news that “a Worthy Son” was about to enter the “Sacred and Exclusive Ranks of the Society of the Sons of Bitche.” The Herald Trumpeters burst forth a loud peal and then the Grand Exalted Biggest arose majestically from his throne and commanded the Sergeant-at-Arms to bring in the “Expectant Son,” who was led to the foot of the throne, where he was commanded to kneel. The “pledge” was read by Grand Exalted Littlest Shorty Connors “in a squeaky voice.”
The induction rites highlighted what was billed as the 19th and final performance of the popular “Sons of Bitche” musical show, which had toured throughout Alsace during the winter months of that siege. The show was, it was announced, the “longest running all-GI show in the ETO.”
After the program concluded, units quickly organized chapters of the Society; among the earliest were the 1st Battalion, 399th’s College de Bitche Chapter, with 615 initial members; 1st Battalion, 397th’s Hottviller Chapter; 2d Battalion, 397th’s Technical Sergeant Charles F. Carey, Jr. Chapter; 3d Battalion, 397th’s Rimling Chapter; and the 397th Provisional Battalion’s Petit Réderching Chapter. Another early entry was the 374th FA Battalion’s Chapter, as well as the Montbronn Chapter, from another artillery unit.
Just before the induction ceremonies, Lt. Kenneth Morgan of the Second Battalion, 399th, delivered a retrospective talk about the Battle of Bitche and urged the Centurymen to “band together in the Society to properly commemorate the 100th’s victory in smashing the Maginot forts.” The G.E.B., Dave Swift, envisioned the Sons of Bitche as an important organization because “we felt the 100th never received the credit it merited for taking Bitche. We felt it would be good to form a group to commemorate that battle.”
The original 18,000 membership cards were printed in black and white with green, blue and gold highlights. While the organization was originally intended for those who participated in the battle of Bitche, it was subsequently opened to all who served in the 100th Division.
Not long after the first meeting, the internationally-renowned comedian Jack Benny was inducted at the First Honorary Civilian Member of the Society after entertaining the Division’s troops near Stuttgart.
The organization was intended to be a permanent group for the division in the USA, but that never materialized. Immediately following the formal organization of The Century Association (now the 100th Infantry Division Association) at the Division’s first reunion in Raleigh in 1947, the Sons of Bitche was revived in its original spirit as an informal idea by Roland Giduz, Company C, 399th Infantry, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the founder and first President of the Association, and who was designated as the successor Grand Exalted Biggest.
Our thanks to the late Roland Giduz for this chronicle.