Walk a mile in their shoes. Their muddy, frozen shoes, through the dark forests of Bastogne, Belgium. I should also mention it's more like 10 miles until you reach the finish line and claim your prize: Belgian Trappist beer. Watch out for shell holes!
Each December, thousands of WWII enthusiasts head to the quaint town center of Bastogne to commemorate the anniversary of the famous Battle of the Bulge, one of the final battles of WWII.
The path winds through fields, forests, and even neighborhoods. It's mid-December in Belgium, so you can expect it to be cold. The good news: you can also expect there to be gluhwein (warm mulled wine). You should probably also expect a lot of mud.
Toward the beginning of your trek, you can detour around the perimeter of the Mardasson Memorial, symbolizing the partnership between Belgium and the USA. Along the way you will find history buffs re-enacting scenes of the war and marked areas to indicate where the real life soldiers who were featured in HBO'S "Band of Brothers" lost their lives. The journey is truly moving, and lends you the ability to put perspective into this epic battle.
After completing our journey, we ventured into the city center, lined with cafes and shops amongst the cobble stone streets. After refueling with some (super healthy) cappuccinos and chocolate crepes, we snagged a spot out in the street to watch the culmination of a lovely parade, in which the Mayor of Bastogne and a few WWII vets tossed walnuts from the balcony of a hotel into the crowd. Sounds, well, nuts, right? Allow me to explain...
Brigadier General Anthony Clement "Nuts" McAuliffe, was the acting division commander of the 101st Airborne Division troops defending Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. The story goes- General McAuliffe received a message from German opponents, informing him that they were surrounded- bad news. General McAuliffe read the message, and mumbled, "Aw, nuts" as he crumpled the message and tossed it into the trash. Fellow officers in the command post weren't exactly sure how to respond to the German's communication, so they opted for the most efficient way to describe their thoughts...
To the German Commander
The American Commander
That's what I call the epitome of BLUF (bottom line up front).
Seeing English and American WWII vets tossing nuts into the crowd with a Belgian Mayor was a very cool moment in time. Bonus, we caught a few nuts, without being pegged in the eye. #goals
If you're heading out to the area, I would also recommend a visit to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, in Luxembourg City. Yes, it's a different country, but I promise a) it's close, and b) it's completely worth it.
The cemetery, though melancholy, is immaculate and a beautiful resting place for the over 5,000 American service members buried here. If you're a fan of General George S. Patton, you can pay your respects at his grave here. To contrast the light and pristine American Cemetery, you can visit the Sandweiler German War Cemetery, about a mile away. Dark, reckless, and sadly, disrespectful, as many of the graves here hold multiple bodies.
Of course, no trip to Belgium would be complete without a taste of Trappist beer and pommes frites with mayo. I couldn't have told you the last time I actually ate fries (or the mayo) before this trip, but I had to throw some diet caution to the wind and sample this local staple. It did not disappoint! Apparently there is a forever-long feud between France and Belgium as to who actually invented the fry. I encourage you to sample both and let me know what you think!
Are you enough of a history buff to take on the annual Battle of the Bulge walk? Comment below and let me know!
BON VOYAGE, BABES!