World War II Museums
After spending the night in Bastogne, Belgium we started our tour of a couple of World War II museums here. This is the area of the Battle of the Bulge - as you know this was a major battle that set the German's back quite a bit. The people of Belgium are extremely appreciative to all Americans for our part in this battle as well as the rest of the war - they know that things would be much different for them now if it were not for all the Allies working together to defeat the Germans. Bastogne is a city that proves that to be true! Many of it's streets are named after major American leaders from the battle, they have built a huge museum and monument to honor the Americans, restaurants are named after things from those days, they have busts of the American leader (General McAuliffe) and Sherman tanks in the town square. When I telephoned the museum to ask if they would be open the day we wanted to visit (it was a Belgian holiday) and asked, in French, if we could speak in English, they said, "Of course we can!".
When you enter the Bastogne Historical Center, the first thing you see is a sign board for veterans to write messages to the museum on - many American soldiers had written notes. They have a flag from each of the 48 states that made up the USA at the time and have them proudly displayed around the rooms. Then you go through many, many displays of both American uniforms, weaponry, vehicles, and so on and those of the Germans as well. I have not ever seen so many pictures that were actually taken during the battle time frame as we did here - the community members and the soldiers have donated them to the museum.
We learned that the US had actually let it's area leader go on leave at the time the battle started and his second in command ended up running the show - seems we had no idea that the Germans were planning this raid to try to get back the ports of Belgium. The Germans actually surrounded the city of Bastogne and cut off all supply lines to it at one point during the battle for several days, but when given an opportunity to surrender McAuliffe sent back a one word reply - "Nuts", so the Americans held on until help arrived. They were not prepared for the battle (obviously) and ended up having to ask the townspeople to help them out when snow arrived and they had no winter camouflage with them - the people gave them tablecloths and sheets and whatever they had in white to aid in the battle. This really seemed to be a case of the local people working right along side the soldiers for the best outcome for them all. It was truly inspiring to see all the articles, pictures, and other paraphernalia on display.
The monument is built in a huge star shape and has the names of all 48 states carved into it's sides. It was really, really windy and cold out there that day, so we didn't stay long on it. Looking out over the surrounding area and trying to picture what it would have been like was fascinating to us. We can't imagine being part of something like this...
The kids didn't think it was too cold to take pictures by the tanks - they always like to act like they are getting run over or shot or holding it back or something...
After some lunch, we headed to another town nearby - La Roche en Ardenne. The town was also a major part of the Battle of the Bulge - Belgians call it the Battle of the Ardennes as that is the name of the forest that covers a great part of the area of the battle. They were not quite as fortunate as Bastogne - about 90% of the town was flattened during the battle. The pictures were devastating, but again the people bounced back and still show their appreciation to all the Allies who came to their aid during their time of need. One display showed the basement area where a family or more would have hidden during the battle time period of many days - we decided that didn't look fun... I couldn't believe the amount of items on display - everything from uniforms to weapons to packs and knives has all been donated. Some of the items had been found in fields and so on years after the battle - they were very interesting to see.
La Roche en Ardenne is the quaintest little European town we have seen here. Walking down it's main street was such a good time - we stopped and got chocolates and went to a fritery for some frites and tried to avoid the rain that came while we were in the Battle of the Bulge Museum. We had a good time!