It was a few weeks ago that we took this day trip to Belgium, but I finally have a babysitter (aka grandma) so I’m able to get caught up on blog posts. The Viper Pilot said he would write this post for me (he is better with historical facts and interesting tidbits than I am) but he’s at work and hasn’t had the chance to sit down to write it yet, so I’ll give it my best effort. We have been busy and I have a lot to catch you up on.
The Viper Pilot went to Bastogne, Belgium for work a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. He was anxious to bring me (and Owen) back to see it.
The back roads our GPS took us on were lovely. Well, at least the view was lovely. The road, not so much.
The primary language in Bastogne is French, but it may as well be America. The city center parking lot boasts a (very battered) American tank and a statue of General McAuliffe right next to the tourism office.
Our first stop was for lunch. A bakery panini and fresh Belgian waffle hit the spot.
It was the day of a dear friend’s wedding that we were not able to attend (we were there in spirit) and I happened to know she was having a donut table instead of a wedding cake. These donuts in the bakery made me think of her. 🙂
We strolled the streets, shopped the windows, adored the church, and got the obligatory chocolates and frites (french fries).
Bastogne is very much in love with Americans. The stars and stripes are flown next to the Belgian flag, and there are numerous monuments scattered about in tribute to the fallen. There is no escaping the American military’s stamp on the quaint town of Bastogne, Belgium.
|General Patton, Owen, and me|
They love Americans for good reason. Bastogne is home to one of the largest and bloodiest battles of WWII: the Battle of the Bulge. The town to this day continues to honor the sacrifices of soldiers who fought to save them from the grip of the Nazis. Just outside the city is the infamous Mardasson memorial.
The towering monument is dedicated to those who defended Bastogne and was opened in 1950. It’s a world-famous memorial, a big five-point star-shaped structure with all 50 states and the story of the battle engraved on the walls.
Next to the monument is a very new museum, the Bastogne War Museum which we toured. Not only was Owen well behaved through the whole museum, but he enjoyed it, too!
The museum had a free audio tour offered in English, descriptions also in English, two movies (one required 3D glasses and one in the “forest,” which Owen loved), and tons and tons of artifacts.
During Battle of the Bulge, if you recall from history class or if you’ve seen Band of Brothers, the 101st Airborne Division protected Bastogne as it was surrounded by Germans. Outgunned and outnumbered, US Army Big. Gen. McAuliffe received a letter from German commanders requesting the surrender of his troops. He responded with the now legendary report, “Nuts!” The museum told the story with pictures and words, and then they wrote simply, “NUTS!” on the wall. It made me giggle.
When the Viper Pilot was in Bastogne, the museum hadn’t opened yet, so it was something new for him as well. We were really impressed with it, it was very well done.
His group had their own tour guide, a gentleman who lived there and remembered the war as an 8-year-old. He recalls the day his father was killed while out to get water. The family sought shelter in the cellar when the city was under attack. A German came and searched the place. They were sure he was going to murder everyone, but he left, probably angry that they had no food or supplies for him. Not long after, an American came to the cellar. He let him and other children ride in his truck, and remembers the American white bread being as decadent as a piece of cake.
The gentleman took the group out to the forest where the battle took place and Alex took me back to see it. During the battle, about 19,000 US soldiers died, 47,500 were wounded and more than 23,000 were missing (according to the Defense Department). The battle lasted a month, from December 1944 to January 1945. The tall, towering trees made it dark as night on the ground.
A road runs through the forest now, but the mark of the battle remains in the scattered foxholes.
It was eerie. To imagine what happened on this very ground nearly 70 years ago…I can’t. I can’t imagine what those soldiers experienced, what they witnessed, what they heard, what they talked about while hovering in a foxhole, what they felt. But there I stood, viewing the aftermath, as an American living in Germany and a tourist in Belgium.
A nap was a must (for all of us).
The following week was a busy one, but there were two fini flights (a pilot’s final flight with a squadron) so we had the opportunity to visit the Viper Pilot at work. I love seeing Owen’s face light up when he recognizes his dad.
Baby on the flight line. 🙂
Thursday was also a special day. We picked up Grandma at the airport bright and early! Owen didn’t recognize her, but he has grown to love her in the past few days! There has certainly been lots of spoiling going on. 🙂
We’ve been having such a blast with her here! I’ll fill you in soon.