Our day started cool and cloudy, but later warmed up to a nice sunny day. What a difference a day makes.
Our first stop was the Wings of Liberation Museum in Oosterbeek. This was the site of the British First Airborne Division’s drop and most of its fighting during the Market Garden operation. The museum is outstanding. It is located in the Harkenstein Hotel, which was the site of German General Model’s headquarters before the air drop, and then the HQ for the 1st Airborne Div.
In the front is the apparently obligatory US M4 Sherman tank, although there were none of these weapons involved in this part of the battle. (The British paratroopers had no tanks.) The museum had the usual artifacts, with a focus on the Dutch population. Its crowning touch was an “Airborne Experience”in the basement.
This was almost like a Disneyworld walk-though experience with projected images and sound effects, as if you were a part of the battle. Very impressive.
The museum left me with two questions.
The first – why are the Dutch so willing to remember and commemorate this battle? The battle was a debacle for the Allies, especially the British airborne troops who dropped in Oosterbeek to seize the Arnhem bridge. They didn’t keep the bridge, and only roughly 2,500 of the 12,000 troopers escaped death or capture. For the Dutch, this short-lived liberation went very poorly in the long run. After the battle, the Germans expelled all the residents from the city. The coming winter of 1944-45 was extremely difficult on the Dutch. Food was extremely scarce. More than 22,000 died of starvation or malnutrition.
Yet they commemorate this battle all over Arnhem and elsewhere in the area.
The second questions echoes historian/biographer William Manchester who observed that historians tend to glorify battles that result in heavy casualties.
For example, everyone knows about the Alamo, where all the defenders were killed. But how many people outside of Texas can describe the subsequent Battle of San Jacinto, that was a decisive and overwhelming victory for the Texans with relatively low casualties.
For history, it seems “the bloodier, the better.” And if it is a defeat (like Arnhem) even better still. Market Garden was a tremendous battle, but the other guys won.
From there, we went to central Nijmegan for lunch, only to find we were at the wrong place.
Back on the bus and drive to a suburban resort hotel for an outstanding lunch of curry soup, steak with a Bordeaux sauce, fries, vegetables and ice cream sundae. It was not a rushed meal. We must have been there for two hours.
We had one more museum near where the 82nd Airborne Div drooped at Groesbeek.
We then went off in search of “the arch.” In the book Band of Brothers, there is a photo of Dick Winters standing in front of an arch.
We ended up driving around for the better part of an hour looking for this thing. We finally found it, and the owners of the house were most gracious to allow us to tramp up their driveway for everyone to pose at the arch.
The arch is part of a 100 year-old farm house on a still-working farm.
We are on our way to Maastricht. Tomorrow we are on to Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge.