23. May 2009 · Comments Off on Movies & Memories · Categories: General, History, Memoir, Military

TCM is showing war movies all weekend – right now is one of my favorites: “Battleground” about the Battle of the Bulge. As I sit here watching the 101st spend winter in Belgium, surrounded by Germans, with the fog keeping them from seeing much of anything, I remembered my own trip to Bastogne – not my first, but the one that meant the most to me.

It was November, 1988. I forget the exact date: either the 10th or 11th, a Thursday or a Friday. I know that I had graduated from NCO Leadership School the day before, at Lindsey Air Station in Wiesbaden. This was my travel day to drive back Florennes Air Base, where I had 60 days left on my tour, and I thought Bastogne was an appropriate place to visit at that particular time of year.

I didn’t pay much attention to WWII history before I was stationed in Belgium. In my high school history classes, we rarely got past the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, if we got that far. I had heard of the Battle of the Bulge, but had no idea what it was, why it mattered, or where it was fought. Then I spent a year in Florennes, not far from the Ardennes Forest, maybe a 90 minute drive from Bastogne.

I learned about WWII history, that year. It was all around me, in my face no matter where I turned. Then one late-summer day, some friends & I stopped in Bastogne on our way to Luxembourg, and I learned about America. About determination, steadfastness, and courage. About a single word answer that an American General gave to a German emissary, when invited to surrender. My hazy memory is telling me that my friends climbed on the tank in the village square, and we took their pictures (I didn’t, but only because I have acrophobia, and it was too high off the ground for me).

But that’s not the trip I was reminded of when I saw the fog surrounding the men in the movie. It was the Veterans’ Day trip. The trip with snow on the ground, with fog. And a deep silence, which is why I think it was the 10th, not the 11th. I cannot imagine that the Bastogne Memorial would be empty and silent on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of any year.

I walked silently on that hallowed ground, thinking about the soldiers who had bled & died there. That day’s fog was their shroud, and seemed to also be a time-machine. I stood on one side of the road, and all I saw on the other side were the ghostly shadows of trees poking through the fog. I could almost see the frozen, exhausted, out-numbered GI Joes, mostly hidden by the fog, dodging from tree to tree, ducking & covering, with the weather as deadly an enemy as the Germans.

I said a prayer for them, those who fought and died, and those who fought & survived to fight again elsewhere, before I got back in my truck and headed towards home.

I pray for them again this weekend, a weekend that will be spent remembering them and all like them, and honoring their sacrifices.

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