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Tanks in Town - Felt like we were in "Band of Brothers"

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Tanks in Town - Felt like we were in "Band of Brothers"

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tanks in Town - Felt like we were in "Band of Brothers"

One of the neatest things about Belgium...I have that rules here are a little different than elsewhere.  Where else in the world, would a city allow a battalion's worth of armored vehicles, tanks and other WWII era vehicles....with a few modern ones thrown reign throughout the city and countryside?  Apparently, only in Mons is this possible!  Every September, you can see the world's largest congregation of MOVING WWII era vehicles.  I think I also saw every kind of uniform or best guess as to a uniform....loved the kids in their French and Belgian resistance uniforms with their berets, sweater vests and Tommy guns!  Here's how to best enjoy this event for next year, and I highly recommend traveling from other duty stations in Europe for this once-in-a-lifetime event, where you can even ride a tank, or whatever else grabs your fancy!

First things first, visit the official site of the event.  I'm hoping they will get more sponsorship in 2011, because the rumor is that the city of Mons has pulled back sponsorship for future events.  Let the tourist bureau know this is an important event or else it risks being on a much smaller scale!

If you want to ride the tanks or wheeled vehicles, the organizers set up an obstacle course at the Bois Brule.  You must prepay on the official site.  It entails filling out the form with your name and information, as well as which vehicle you'd like to ride in and whether you'd like to do this on Saturday or Sunday.  Then, go to your local bank or use its online banking system to pay the account # listed at the site.  You can also pay internationally, as they list their international bank codes as well.  Print out a copy to show proof of payment, and take it with you.  Once you get to the bivouac site, which is right on the edge of the obstacle course at Bois Brule.  Look for a tent that is giving out the ride tickets.  They make you sign a waiver, and they also have a list of who rides what and on what day.  Arrive early in the day to avoid waiting in line.

We arrived right around 0930 am on Saturday, which was perfect.  As everyone else, we drove behind the barriers on the canal road, and parked right there on the street behind the other cars ahead of us.  We walked about half a mile to the entrance of the bivouac site, which also held a military fleamarket, which was worth it alone to visit.  So many uniforms (not just WWII), memorabilia, items dug up from battlefields and my youngest was just tickled a vendor let him where the German Pickelhaube, which was probably a copy....but it was cool anyway!  I was also surprised to see some swastikas and Nazi stuff displayed, but then realized this is not Germany and it is not illegal to display.  Before the day was over, my little one was decked out as a WWII doughboy.  The prices are also very reasonable, and I even saw a sign of some guy advertising that he could retread your tank for you....these people are SERIOUS!

Remember that Saturday is always free for SHAPE ID card holders, so be sure you show it at the entrance or pay the small fee.  Sunday is "Family Day", and I guess is free for families.  You'll get an armband before entry.  Of course we saw many,  many in uniform.  We also saw SHAPE soldiers in their duty uniforms.  We walked through the bivouac and saw numerous tents and conglomeration of sleeping arrangements, as well as static displays of many vehicles.  Of course there were also food tents and beer....and more beer.  Everyone was having a great time.

The boys chose to ride the T-72 Russian main battle tank...and they were not disappointed...the obstacle course was a bit of a roller coaster and boys got to sit in the gunner's and tank commander's hatch.  What an experience they told me!!!

On Sunday afternoon, we headed out to Mesvin and the farmer's field where the mock tank battle was scheduled to happen.  Arrive early!  There will be police and organizers directing traffic, and you'll end up parking in the town and walking out to the field, which takes about 10-30 minutes depending on how early you arrived.  They started the tank battle early this year, and I swear it lasted only five minutes, so don't get disappointed....leave in plenty of time and arrive early!  The tank battle had lots of booms, tanks and vehicles running around and also infantry soldiers in hand to hand combat with the first German soldiers I'd seen.  The official site says German uniforms are strictly prohibited....but you'll see them here and only here.  One German had to be taken on by three US soldiers, and I think they had more fun than the rest, in an impromptu wrestling match.  They even had one German vehicle and the Germans occupied defensive positions.  Of course the Americans won!  That was the last we saw of the Germans as they were hauled away, never to be seen again.

Then things got exciting, as all these vehicles lined up in positions for the road march into Mons Grand square.  I must say, this must've been highly orchestrated....everyone seemed to know their place.  We found a place along the parade route, at a corner, so we could see the tanks pivot and turn....and weren't disappointed there either.  Many left themselves some space as they gunned it around the corner, tearing up the roads in the process.  Many also threw bon-bons to any kid they saw....they loved it!  We even saw my son's science teacher go by manning one of the anti-aircraft guns.  We kept saying, isn't this something to see....we felt like we wereo on a movie set, especially with the old WWII Harley motorcycles whipping around back and forth with determined riders in goggles and leather helmets....loved it!

We ended up slipping out the back way ut of town...through some goatpaths to the next town, and headed around the back way to Mons.  We wanted to reach the square before they did.  We even found parking downtown, by the train station, and since it was Sunday, parking is free.  We then walked the five minutes to the Grand Place, which was already prepped for the convoy's arrival.  The Italian restaurant in the square still had plenty of seating, so we pulled up some chairs and had an awesome pizza and pasta meal, watching the tanks and other vehicles roll in....we even saw General Patton at one point....boy, he had gained some weight!  They must've packed hundreds of vehicles in that square and much to the delight of the crowd, the parade barriers were moved and everyone could interact with the vehicles and their operators.

It was amazing to talk to some of the re-enactors.  It is a culture and not just a hobby.  Many of the tanks had one owner but had teams who took care of them.  Many were so lovingly restored.  We talked to one man, who came from England and said this is the premier event world-wide for things like this, whose American tank he bought from the Croatian Army!  He ended up taking out the jerry rigged Russian engine and restored it back to all its original parts....can't imagine what that must've cost!  One tank was even rescued, even though it had a major hole through it from an anti-tank round in a real battle (which was artfully covered up of course).  Anyway, lots of close up photo opportunities and fun interacting....these guys are just a trip!

This event is highly recommended for WWII buffs, and kids will find it absolutely fascinating!  Put it on your calendar if you are in Europe!

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Blogger WhisperingWriter said...

Ha, cool, so you're at SHAPE?

I graduated high school there.

I was there for like 3 years and loved it.

August 3, 2011 at 6:13 AM  

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