65th Anni of D-Day: A Trip to Bastogne and Luxembourg
Jun 6, 2009
|To celebrate the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, I decided to take a one-day USO tour to Bastogne, Belgium and the American Cemetery in Luxembourg. In the annals of American history the Battle of Bastogne, key to Allied victory during World War II, ranks in significance with the battles of Yorktown and Gettysburg. Of all America’s battles during WWII, Bastogne is second in importance only to the Normandy landings. The more I travel Europe the more I realize that not only is our distant, pre-Revolution past shaped by the goings-on of Europe, but so much of our early 20th-century history is here as well.
I was not prepared for the way the Bastogne Historical Center and the cemeteries in Luxembourg would move me. I started randomly crying on several occasions. If anyone reading this journal ever gets a chance to come to Europe, I swear these two places should be near, or at the top of, your list of places to go- you have no idea where you’re going until you realize where your ancestors have been.
The Bastogne Historical Center and Monument:
At the Bastogne Historical Center, visitors are given the opportunity to basically relive what it was like at Bastogne during that fateful Christmas 1944. The Center has authentic uniforms, artillery, tanks, jeeps, etc from both the Allied and Axis sides used during the war. In one case a German general personally donated his war uniform, coat, medals, etc to the Center for preservation (the general’s name escapes me right now). In a few cases the uniforms some mannequins were displaying actually had bullet holes in them. *shudder* Pictures are not allowed to be taken while inside the Center, although I did manage to sneak a few. I did buy a 65th Anniversary of D-day Challenge Coin while I was there.
What is interesting about the Center is that most Americans would associate Bastogne with Patton and not other generals of the time. While we all know that Patton’s 3rd Army did indeed break through German lines and “free” Bastogne, the Center actually focuses more on the man it SHOULD be focused on- Brig General Anthony “NUTS!” McAuliffe and the men who bravely said “SCREW YOU” to the Germans who kept asking for their surrender. If you’ve ever seen Band of Brothers, then you will understand how the Bastogne Historical Center is set up.
The American Memorial at Bastogne, also known as the Mardasson War Memorial, is a sight to see. Set in the shape of a 5-pointed star, it has the names of every US state inscribed on it, as well as every known Army and Air Force unit that participated in liberating Bastogne. There are even small statues situated around the landscaping dedicated to the 101st Airborne Division. With regards to this Monument, I think my pictures speak for themselves- the place is so… peaceful.
The Town of Bastogne:
Never in my life have I been to a place that loves America so much. Forget those small towns in Indiana who claim to be the most patriotic, or any large city that has 4th of July parades- these places have NOTHING on Bastogne. Even today, 65+ years later, the people of Bastogne love Americans. When I opened my mouth to order food at a restaurant, the waiter jumped up and said, “You are AMERICAN, YES???” I nodded in confirmation, he jumped up and down, and a few minutes later I had a free dish of ice cream in front of me. I was baffled (maybe it was also the blonde hair/blue eyes?). Walking around the shops of Bastogne was no different- go in there with an American accent and you are treated like royalty. I must have had a sign on my head that said “AMERICAN WOMAN” on it because an older gentleman stopped me and asked about my grandfather’s service during WWII. I tried to relay what I could remember my father telling me about my grandfather, and the man started tearing up. Which of course made me tear up.
On the outskirts of town there is a shop dedicated entirely to American military supplies used in Europe during WWII, with darn good reproductions of uniforms of all types- even down to the MREs!!! An Army captain I met on the tour was having a BALL in there.
The German Cemetery at Luxembourg:
Due to time constraints we were only allowed 15 minutes at this cemetery, but it was enough time. It contains the remains of over 10,000 Germans who fell in this area during WWII, and is very well maintained. Every cross signifies four people buried there, and for obvious reasons there are no Jewish crosses in sight here.
I turned to some people I traveled with and asked them a simple question: Had Hitler won the war and not the Allies, would he have built and maintained such a beautiful cemetery for our fallen brothers/fathers/sons/daughters? The responses were about 50/50- many people thought that he would have obeyed the rules of war and given all non-Jewish bodies a proper burial. Others, such as myself, disagree. Lucky for us, we will never have to know that answer.
The American Cemetery at Luxembourg:
I have to say right now, you have to be mentally prepared to entire this cemetery. From the moment you walk through the well-maintained cast-iron gates that lead into it, you are taken aback by how BEAUTIFUL the cemetery is, and how humbling. According to Wikipedia, the Luxembourg government actually offered the whole site of the American cemetery to the American government as American- controlled land. This of course was not possible, as it had something to do with extra-territorial rights. It’s still awesome though that they wanted to give us this land, free of charge.
The Cemetery is everything I would expect from a military cemetery, only better. This one makes Quantico and Arlington look like they are taken care of by 12 year olds. Each cross represents its own individual solder, with the exception of the sole female buried here- LT Wilma Ledbetter, a nurse stationed at Bastogne. I haven’t quite figured out why she got the honor of being buried here and other women didn’t, but oh well. The 181 Jewish men buried here are represented by some really cool looking Jewish stars, and every Saturday a Jewish man from a local town comes and puts a stone on each Jewish star. There are four Medal of Honor winners buried here, and 11 of the members of the “Band of Brothers.” Unfortunately my pictures of these gravesites did not turn out.
I am glad they didn’t make TOO much out of Patton’s grave- I was half expecting a huge monstrosity of a monument dedicated to the man, and instead I saw that he has the same sized cross as every other soldier buried there. I had a form of weird satisfaction in seeing this.
Just sit back and enjoy the rest of my pictures- I don’t want to ruin the virtual experience for you.
Well, today was a depressing yet rewarding day. I am very glad I took the opportunity to see just some of the gravesites of what has been deemed in the media as, “The Greatest Generation.”