Tag Archives: military history

Walking in the foxholes

We got into the Novotel Hotel in Maastricht late last night — around 9:30 pm. Some of us scrambled for a bite to eat at the hotel bar. A mini-pizza was about the only choice, if you could get the attention of the frazzled and not-particularly eager barmaid. We had big lunch, so Dan and I said “screw it” and went to bed.

Today is another beautiful, sunny day in the Benelux countries, and by the time we are finished, we will see all three of them today. We started in the Netherlands; spent most of the day in Belgium; and will sleep tonight in Luxembourg.

One thing about this part of Europe is we can never be quite certain what language is being spoken. We started the day in Dutch, while in Bastogne, we encountered both French and German. None of us speak any of them worth a darn, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. Birdie has become an expert at dealing with waiters and shopkeepers by pointing and nodding.

This morning our first stop was the American Military Cemetary at Margraten, Netherlands.

The American Cemetery

We spent around an hour there and then headed to Bastogne. Dan commented how impressed he has been with the darn-near-perfect condition of the cemeteries we visited. There isn’t a stray piece of grass to be seen.

Our first stop in the Bastogne area was the village of Foy. (That was the village Easy Company of The Band of Brothers attacked in the episode “The Breaking Point.”)

Foy is not very large.

"The Gang" in Foy

Then we rode back towards Bastogne about a half mile to Bois Jacques (John’s Woods). This was the actual location of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge. We walked through the woods a few hundred yards to the exact position Easy Company occupied.

Treking through Fois Jacques

The foxholes are still evident. Very  cool.

Note the foxholes.

Dan in a foxhole.

We had one more sip of Birdie’s calavados brandy to commemorate the occasion.

(l-r) Ron, Birdie, Dan and Poolman

Our final historical stop of the day was at the American monument to the Battle of the Bulge, at Mardasson, near Bastogne.

From there it was back to Bastogne’s central square (McAuliffe Place) for lunch.

McAuliffe Place, Bastogne, Belgium

Dan, Birdie, Ron and I ate at Le Nuts Café. The restaurant is named for the reply the 101st AB Div acting commander, General Anthony McAuliffe gave to the German’s demand for surrender – not for the specialty of the house.

Some of our gang eating outside "Le Nuts Cafe."

(l-r) Poolman, Birdie, Ron and Dan

I had a Belgian version of a ham and cheese sandwich, but the other three guys all ordered a “croque a bleu,” which was essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with additional cheese melted on top. I had some of Dan’s and it was outstanding.

As I write this, we are on our way to Luxembourg City for dinner and the evening.

Tomorrow, we hit one more American cemetery and then a long (600 km, 360 mi) drive to Munich.

Bon Voyage!

This blog is going to take a different slant over the next two weeks. I am joining my brother and two friends on a two-week tour of Europe. We are visiting Paris, Normandy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Bavaria. I am going to use this blog platform as a way of keeping our families up to speed on our “adventures.” Here is the story.

Last Memorial Day weekend, my friend, Birdie, pulled me aside at a backyard pool party at our house and said that he and his wife were planning a trip to Europe in 2012. They were looking for another couple to go along. Like me, Birdie is a bit of a military history geek. The prime purpose would be to visit the D-Day beaches at Normandy, but with additional travels from there. Details to be worked out later. We agreed in principal that we would go along.

Less than two weeks later, I got a call from my brother, who is an attorney in the Harrisburg, Pa. area. He told me about a tour he had read about in the local newspaper. He then went to an introductory meeting. Essentially, this tour is a “Band of Brothers” tour. The official title is “In the Footsteps of Maj. Dick Winters.”

For those of you who might not be aware, the book by Stephen Ambrose and the subsequent HBO mini-series followed the World War II action of one specific company of paratroopers in the 101st Airborne Division, from Normandy, on through Holland, Belgium and Germany. Dick Winters was the company commander for much of the war, and the center point of much of the narrative. Winters was a resident of SE Pennsylvania, and something of a local hero. All that explains why a historical society from Hershey, Pa. would put together this specific of a tour. (FYI – Winters died just a few weeks ago.)

So I got off the phone and talked with Mrs. Poolman. She said she had no interest in going on this military history tour, but I should call my brother back immediately and tell him to count me in.

That put me in the awkward position of having to go back to Birdie and tell him that “I have a better offer.” To make long story short (or shorter, anyway) Birdie found himself a roommate, Ron, and the two of them joined up with the Band of Brothers tour.

(l-r) Birdie, Ron and Poolman

As I write this, I am sitting in the Charlotte (NC) Airport awaiting our flight to Charles DeGaulle Airport.  Birdie, Ron and I will be spending two extra days on our own in Paris before meeting up with the rest of the tour group on Thursday.

None of us are world-travelers, so this should be interesting. I already described my less-than-successful efforts to learn a little French. The only other time I went to Europe was on an Air National Guard junket back in my TV news days. So this should be interesting.

I’ll be posting more updates and photos as time and WiFi access permit.