After visiting the D-Day beaches, we went inland and explored what Allied forces faced after securing the beaches. The first thing we came across were the hedgerows. These were the earthen boundaries of sunken farm roads all throughout northern France. I got to tell you that Northern France is a beautiful part of the world. The rolling green hills, the meandering rivers, the little farm houses and barns all make for a picturesque setting. However, they do not make an easy way to travel for a large army. Apparently, our military leaders did not take the hedgerows into account. This mistake cost thousands of lives.
And just to note, this is not a historical site or anything. This is just a road between two farm fields, but I am sure was witness to something during WWII. Eventually, our tanks put these poles on the front of their tanks so instead of going over the top of these hedgerows (making them vulnerable to attack to its underside), the tanks would dig into and destroy the hedgerow.
Then the forest appeared. I will tell about it in a minute, but these pics will help set the mood:
The Hurtgen Forest is a nasty place. As you can see, the forest is a dark, hilly, and dense place. Our planners once again did not know this. In fact, no planning commanders of this attack ever physical came here. The result was horrific. American tanks could not navigate the narrow and steep paths. German soldiers just wanted for Americans to find an opening (which is hard in this forest) began demolishing them.
The path we would walk (the Kall Trail) was so treacherous that most of our group stayed on the bus on this cold, rainy, and what would definitively be, a muddy day. Here is what the forest looked like:
If you can’t read the inscription, here it is:
It is at that very time when some other people were visiting the bridge. These other people – they were German and very kind. They talked to us, told us what they were doing, let their picture be taken and we even ate lunch at the same little cafe. I mentioned these people because I think our meeting them and our interaction with them is a testament to these words – for you see, these other people, were German Soldiers:
Our next stop was Bastogne, the center of American interest during the Battle of the Bulge. As many of you know, the Battle of the Bulge was the last ditch effort on behalf of Hitler to win the war. His military commanders knew this was madness, but they followed his orders nonetheless. The idea was for the Nazis to wait for some bad weather (to keep American planes out of the sky) and then launch a huge, surprise attack. On December 16, 1944, the attack started and caused Americans to fall back, thereby creating the Bulge in the lines. The town of Bastogne was surrounded by Nazis and the Americans inside were caught. When asked to surrender or face death, the American commander at Bastogne simply replied, “NUTS!” Another story is that another military leader in Bastogne was heard to say, “They have us surrounded, the poor bastards!”
Regardless, it was a few weeks before the Nazis were pushed back and the Americans in Bastogne were relieved.
I had lunch with Jim and Joe Calvert (more on them later) and Ken Block (owner of Matterhorn) at the NUTS Cafe here before heading out to the Memorial site:
As you can see, it has five sides, representing the five roads that ran into Bastogne (which made the town so important).
The inside of the memorial tells the story of the Battle of the Bulge on 10 panels. Then, each state that had soldiers here are represented along the top:
And of course, plenty of flags:
And a closer one:
Further down the road, we ran into a cemetery that was used by American commanders as a headquarters. They used a mausoleum with a basement. Here are the stairs down and the coffin they used as a desk (I don’t think they broke the legs off):
Further down the road, we came to the site of what has become the Malmedy Massacre. Just outside the town of Malmedy, 84 Americans who were taken prisoner, were then shot in a snowy field. They were unarmed with their hands up. This became known as the Malmedy Massacre. I do not deny that American soldiers did the same thing. They did. This is what the ugliness of war does. The more death and destruction you witness, the less life’s value. But I think the opposite is true too. The more life and creation you witness, the higher life’s value.
But here in Malmedy today, on a busy street corner, is this memorial:
There is a wall with every victim’s name:
Near the memorial was a picture left – I assume of another victim:
The story was not over as we continued down the road to another American cemetery. This one in Luxembourg:
Just inside the gates was a memorial:
I took some pics of some of the markers again. There is one from Michigan, one that is Jewish (if you didn’t know, they had a marker with a Star of David on it, and one of an unknown soldier:
What impressed me is that we also saw this guy scrubbing each grave – keeping them clean. I don’t know why, but I never thought this was done. But the care taken at all the cemeteries we visited is clear. I should have thanked him, but he probably didn’t speak English (which blows my mind even more):
Oh yeah, there is someone famous buried here too:
General George Patton was killed in a car accident later in 1945 and wanted to be buried here, with his soldiers.
Our final stop on the after DDay military tour was a stop at Remagen Bridge. This bridge has had movies made after it. Eisenhower said it was worth its weight in gold. And it is gone. After capturing the bridge from the Nazis, the Americans protected it and reinforced it for weeks until the Nazis finally sent a V2 rocket into it. The towers are the only thing that remains:
Inside there is a museum. It wasn’t that great. But, halfway through, I realized that I was INSIDE REMAGEN BRIDGE!!!! This is the power of authentic sites. Just being here somehow connected me to this history on a much deeper level than watching those movies. I was simply moved by being here, until….I walked up these steps to the top of the inside of Tower 2:
And I found this exhibit:
That’s right. These plaques represent all the wars that have taken place since Remagen Bridge was taken. It was quite a blow. By this point, we were feeling pretty good about all that Americans did in WWII. We ended Facism and helped to put us on the path to Wilson’s dream of “Making the World Safe for Democracy.” Then there’s this. And many of these plaques did not have an end date – meaning the conflicts are still going on. We have a long way to go.