Saturday, May 1, 2010

WW2 Tour Pt. 3: Belgium

We woke up in Brussels and plowed out of town to tour Battle of the Bulge battlegrounds. We made first for La Gleize, which was the northernmost point the German army made it into Belgium during their surprise counterattack during Christmas of 1944. We were navigating the relatively tiny country roads on either side of interstate E25 all day - without GPS, mind you - and so we took our time and got a little lost en route to La Gleize, but saw a whole lot of Belgian countryside in the meantime. We had lunch in the village of Stoumont, La Gleize's neighbor, because it had a tourism bureau where we were finally able to get real directions to our destination. When we made it to La Gleize, we found the Koenigstiger Tiger II tank that the German commander Piper had left behind in his hasty retreat as the Allies started to repel the German counterattack. We decided that the museum there wasn't really worth it, so we decided to wait for a museum until we got to the bigger and better one in La Roche en Ardennes, our next stop.

La Roche en Ardennes was a bigger town in the Ardennes forest that swapped hands numerous times during the liberation of Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge later in 1944. It was a quiet resort town that had a beautiful river running through it and a medieval castle on the hillside (that was conveniently placed for German snipers to use during the two times the Allies had to push through the town). We went to the Battle of the Bulge 1944 Museum there, which was actually pretty good, and then stopped by the castle on the way out for some pictures.

The capstone destination for our Battle of the Bulge tour was Bastogne, the town that the Germans completely encircled and was held only by the determination and grit of the 101st Airborne Division and, specifically, Easy Company (the one featured in Band of Brothers). We went first to the Woods of Peace, which is a monument located northeast of the town, right where Easy Company was encircled. The woods were dedicated just five or six years ago, when all Battle of the Bulge veterans were invited back to Belgium. Anyone in attendance had a tree dedicated to them. We spent a little while walking through the forest there before we headed back toward Bastogne to stop at the Mardasson monument, which is the overarching Battle of the Bulge monument built in the 1950s to commemorate all the Americans that died liberating Belgium.

After Bastogne, we drove the hour or so into the nation of Luxembourg and checked into a hotel in the capital city there. We walked across the town to have dinner in an outdoor piazza and then retired for the night to get ready for our last day of our tour: into Eastern France and then into Frankfurt for the night.

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