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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Feeling the History in Bastogne, Belgium

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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Feeling the History in Bastogne, Belgium


This post is in honor and remembrance of the fallen.  Please take the time to check out commemorative events in your area to pay your respects and give thanks!

The birds were singing beautifully, and they knew it.  As we observed a moment of silence for the fallen men of the 17th Airborne in WWII, I wished they were here to listen to the sounds too.  This was going to be our first WWII commemorative walk.  Apparently, there are quite a few, the largest in Belgium being the big event in Bastogne held every December.  This particular march, only in its third season, was to remember those who fought so bravely during the Battle of the Bulge with the 17th Airborne, 101st Division.

The mayor of the town of Flamierge, which lies only 20 min from Bastogne, stepped up to thank the Americans for saving the town, and as I scanned the crowd of hikers, walkers, a few families with children and the large number of WWII re-enactors I realized that before the march was over, the men who had fought here were going to leave a mark on all of our lives.  The guest of honor was a veteran of this battle, Robert Patterson, who right before the march, signed autographs like a rockstar and then did a pass and review of the re-enactors; inspecting weapons, uniforms, shaking hands and patting the men on their backs.  Even though I could see he was getting tired, he posed endlessly with anyone who asked and was very gracious and kind to anyone who spoke to him.  A grandson of a veteran, also a US Army soldier, was in attendance.  

After the solemn ceremony and the wreath laying, we lined up for the march.  We were given a sheet of the unit history, a bio of Robert Patterson and a map with our route clearly marked.  Anyone could sign up for the march ahead of time and pay the 5 euro per person fee.  This is what we did via Belgian bank draft.  We also noticed that many participants showed up on site and paid then.  We could go either 6 or 16 km. The fee covered organizer costs, a completion certificate and a drink.


The march started off quickly, as everyone was anxious to get started, especially the three dogs who were pulling at their leashes.  As we settled into a rhythm, the two columns started to spread out and everyone seemed to enjoy the rare Belgian sunshine and blueskies.  We passed by farmers' fields and old stone homes that must have been here during the battle and were showing their age.  As we turned the first corner (and marker) and headed uphill, some of our lot started to slow down, but that was okay.  We had two Army medic re-enactors bringing up the rear.  It was amazing to see the authenticity of the uniforms and equipment and the great care that was put into the details.  One three-man team even carried a 30 caliber machine gun with its tripod and barrel - a real team effort.  There was also a re-enactor who was a military photographer as it said on his helmet, looking the part with his high speed camera.  I personally liked the family of five, fully dressed the part including a different weapon for each person in the family.  This was serious business.

After the walk and feeling exhilarated, we spoke with some of the other walkers.  There was an American family of four that was also stationed in Europe.  I believe we were one of only a few Americans present this year.  Mostly, I talked to French and Belgian families who felt it was important to never forget what the Americans did.  I was humbled when an older man came over wanting to shake my hand and to thank me and my country for what we did for them that day.  In a reflective mood, and with our certificates in hand, we decided to visit some of the other military highlights in the Bastogne area.  

To highlight the ones you absolutely should not miss, read on.  As you travel through nearby Bastogne, you can already see Mardassone Monument, rising out of the trees on the eastside of town.  Standing on top of this five-pointed granite monument, listing all the Allied units that fought, as well as all the US states listed across the top, you have an absolutely expansive view of the town of Bastogne below.  This is the closest the Germans would ever come to capturing the town.  There is also the Bastogne Historical Center right next door, but keep in mind it is closed for the next year and a half for renovations sorry to say.  You can visit the special exhibit "I was 20 in 45" in town if you have time or follow this route below.

Using a map or GPS, follow the small road from the Mardassone monument East towards Bizory.  Once you get to this small hamlet, turn West towards Foy.  About halfway between the two, on this one lane road, slow down.  Right after you cross the bikepath, you will see a monument on the left side of the road, commemorating Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment (from "Band of Brothers" fame) and all those who died from the unit during the Battle of the Bulge.  One soldier listed was killed afterwards, but since there is no commemorative plaque, he was included in this one.  This used to be a railroad line and railstop and was a major part of Easy Company's fight.  Continue on towards Foy.  You'll see a forest road off to your left with an open area in front of the trees, probably full of mud.  Stop here and walk into the woods on the westside of the forest road.  Those depressions you see in the earth under the trees are Easy Company's foxholes, or what is left of them after time and scavengers have gotten ahold of them.  You get a real sense of emotion standing in one of these holes and reflecting on the quiet-as-a-church forest with its carpet of pine needles.  

As you drive on towards Foy, you'll see some buildings with pockmarks and bullet holes, and you will swear that nothing here has changed.  This was also a major engagement for Easy Company.  Cross the N30 towards Recogne and turn on the first road to your right.  You'll immediately see the marker that shows where the Allies buried our fallen heroes from the Battle of the Bulge.  

They have all since been relocated to other cemeteries now, but the site is still sacred.  If you go down the road towards Recogne and the interesting bison farm there, you'll see a German military cemetery to your left.  Be sure to stop and take a look.  


Since we absolutely wanted to see more, to include memorabilia and items from the battle to make our visit complete, we traveled the 20 minutes cross-country on forest roads to the wonderful town of La Roche-en-Ardenne, which sits down in a valley, surrounded by cliffs with a river running through it.  There is even an imposing 9th century fortress overlooking the quaint storybook buildings that were all but destroyed by the end of the war.  

Stop at the Battle of the Ardennes Museum which has three floors of wonderful dioramas of both Allied and German soldiers, vehicles and all their belongings tastefully and thoughtfully presented.  Especially popular are the metal artifacts dug up from the battlefield, from both armies, as well as a room filled with weapons and the hard-to-find German Enigma code machine.
Coming home that evening, we certainly had a new insight into the battle and also enjoyed some of the what the Ardennes Region has to offer, only a short two hour drive from SHAPE.  If you like the outdoors and want to experience history beyond the dusty pages of a book, then these commemorative marches  and the Ardennes are for you!  The Stars & Stripes will frequently list these events, as well as the veterans' association pages of the units who fought there.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came to SHAPE this year and all I can say is wow! I was going to hang out at home this weekend and now I am going to the cemetery in Bastone for their ceremony and the museum. Thanks for posting this!

May 24, 2011 at 8:09 AM  
Anonymous T.v Serials said...

The decision to defend Bastogne has been heralded as a "stroke of genius" as General Patton called it in his complimentary letter to General Middleton, VIII Corps commander, of April 25, 1945. The fact that for a short time the decision to EVACUATE and NOT defend it, and that this order was in effect until cancelled by the two German divisions that completed the encirclement has never been widely known, and I believe never published. It probably will not be found in the after action reports of the division, Corps, or Corps artillery.

June 8, 2011 at 7:21 PM  

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