For a decade or so a popular party game has been “Six Degrees of Separation.” Most commonly it has been connected to the actor Kevin Bacon…I.e., six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. The idea spawned a play of the same name in 1993. The theory of the game is that no two people are more than 6 acquaintances apart.
More recently, with the emergence of Facebook, the theory has been statistically tested. The result…in late 2011 Facebook reported that through their research the actual degree of separation between any two individuals is 3.74. Six, five, 4.23, 3.74…it really doesn’t matter the exact number, but the degree of separation between any two individuals does seem to be rather small, and interesting.
I have heard of the game for some time but had given little thought much less credence to the concept…until a few months ago.
For a number of years I have been immersed in a study of the history of WW2. Although my concentration has been on the air war in Europe, I have also tried to expand my understanding of all aspects of WW2. Like many other amateur historians, I have always wanted to visit Normandy. I originally used the word “experience” instead of “visit” in the previous sentence. But, as soon as the word hit my screen, I realized how impossible it would be to actually experience the hardships of the 100 days that began on the northwestern coast of France on June 6, 1944… D-Day. In early October of this year I had an opportunity to go to Normandy on a tour sponsored by Focus on the Family. I jumped at the chance! The tour also included time in Paris, Luxembourg and Belgium, including Bastogne and Malmedy, key sites in the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
In 1968 I was hired and mentored by two consummate financial professionals, Willis Everett III and Tom Asher, co-managers of the Goodbody brokerage office at Lenox Square in Atlanta. During our professional and personal relationship over the ensuing years, Willis had told me of his father’s legal work for the U.S. government after WW2.
In the winter of 1944, Hitler had concocted one last attempt to split the Allied effort by making a well-fortified and rapid advancement through the Ardennes Forest to the port of Antwerp. On December 17, 1944, the second day of the Battle of the Bulge (Originally the Battle of the Ardennes Forest), 84 U.S. infantry men were executed by the Nazi Tiger tank unit commanded by Joachim Pieper the leader of the mission. The dastardly act was known as the Malmedy Massacre, although it occurred in the adjacent village of Baugnez, Belgium. Colonel Willis E. Everett Jr., Willis III’s father, was later appointed by the U.S. Government to defend Pieper and 73 other Nazis for the massacre in their May 1946 trial held in Dachau, Germany.
At the time of the Malmedy Massacre at Baugnez, Joachim Pieper was a 29-year old member of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. In SS ceremonial tradition he was married to the best friend of Heinrich Himmler’s mistress. Pieper had risen in both rank, as a member of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) and reputation to the top of Nazi planning and execution when he commanded the tank unit that summarily executed the 84 men at Malmedy.
In preparation for my trip to Normandy and Belgium, I devoured everything I could find on the Battle of the Bulge and specifically Malmedy. In the process, I communicated with, James Weingartner, the writer of the two definitive works on the subject. I also met with, Willis Everett IV, the grandson of Colonel Everett and son of my original financial mentor, Willis III.
As the founder of Vintage Lumber Sales (http://www.vintagelumbersales.com/ ), a hugely successful niche lumber and high-end construction company, Willis IV, has built a nationwide reputation with builders and architects. Vintage reclaims lumber from numerous sources including factories, old homes and barns. Additionally, sunken logs that broke loose from logging operators floating their hewn trees down river to market are reclaimed. Many of these have been lying on the bottom of swamps and rivers for over a century. Vintage then converts this wood into lumber that is subsequently used for flooring, paneling and furniture in all types of upscale construction.
During the day I spent a day with the engaging entrepreneur we discussed his father, grandfather and the unique history of their lives. I asked Willis what he remembered about his grandfather. He responded, “nothing, he died when I was two so I have no recollection of him.” I asked if he had ever heard his grandfather’s voice…in home movies, etc. He said, “no.” I asked if he would like to hear it. He responded, “yes.” It was very gratifying to be able to go to a YouTube clip of the Malmedy Trial where, for the first time, he heard the voice of Colonel Willis E. Everett, Jr., his grandfather.
Now to Four Degrees of separation from Hitler. I was mentored by Willis Everett III, whose father defended Joachim Pieper, a member of Hitler’s inner circle and perpetrator of many acts of torture defined by Hitler. This “four degrees of separation” is not something to put in a resume… but it is a fact. And it provides a backdrop for some articles I will be writing for WORLD WAR 2 COLLECTION over the next few weeks. I will expand the history of the battles, provide photos from the time of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and Malmedy and show original documents from the trial, not here-to-fore seen. We hope you enjoy what we provide on the site.
Another good that comes from the above story is that it has united me with an accomplished professional and philanthropic man, Willis IV, whose father has been a great influence in my life. I’m extremely grateful to both.
A Peculiar Crusade: Willis M. Everett and the Malmedy Massacre