The next stop on the World War 2 Tour takes us to Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Ardennes region, site of the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
A Visual Contrast
On the way to the Luxembourg American Cemetery we stop at a small German military cemetery. Unlike American and French soldiers, the Germans are buried in a small space, four to a plot, sharing a small blackish-grey headstone. We wonder if the cross at the end of the cemetery symbolizes a Christian Cross or the German military Iron Cross.
Like all cemeteries under the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Luxembourg American Cemetery is pristine with a beautiful, small chapel and visitor center. The information chart indicates that there are 5,076 headstones, including twenty-two sets of brothers and a female Army nurse. American families had the choice of burying their soldiers here or taking them home, and nearly seventy percent brought them home to the U. S.
General George Patton, commander of the Third U.S. Army in the war, has an honored place here (photo below). As elsewhere on our travels, guides remind us that it is Patton, not Eisenhower, who many Europeans feel is responsible for running the Germans into retreat and restoring their freedom.
Those buried here participated in the last major counteroffensive against the Germans, starting on December 16, 1944, with an objective of travelling through the Ardennes to Antwerp. This is the offensive that immortalized Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe at Bastogne. On December 22, with his troops surrounded, the Germans demanded surrender. His response: “Nuts!”
By January 25, the “Bulge” was overtaken, and for the next two months the First and Third Armies crossed over the Rhine into Germany. David’s father, Dick, was with the First in the prelude to the final offensive.
Battle of the Bulge
In the Ardennes region we stop at Diekirch, Luxembourg, an ancient Celtic stronghold. We agree that their Luxembourg National Museum of Military History, primarily dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45, is the best military museum we have seen on the trip so far. Its mission is to present a balanced and objective historical representation of military operations from American, German and civilian perspectives.
Dioramas, including the important night-time Sauer River crossing by units of the 5th U.S. Infantry Division on January 18, 1945, give insight into the difficult situations soldiers and civilians experienced. Showrooms are filled with extensive collections of everything military, such as equipment, uniforms, weapons, maps and personal belongings.
We proceed to Bastogne. The town isn’t as quaint as others we’ve visited due to extensive fighting and bombing that took place. Individuals old enough to remember, or whose relatives experienced the battle, share their family experiences.
David and others in the group whose relatives fought here now have a better understanding of what their ancestors experienced.
Next time: The Road to Normandy Coast
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s, and preparing for future works by blogging about a recent World War 2 European tour. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com
Categories: WW2, military, Germany, Ann Otto author, George Patton