Battle of the Bulge

On Saturday, CIEE took a trip to Bastogne, in the southeast of Belgium (close to the Luxembourg border). Bastogne is considered the center of the Battle of The Bulge (La Bataille des Ardennes), which took place in December of 1945-January 1946. Quick little history for those (like me) who have forgotten everything they learned in high school history class: on the 16th December 1945, the Germans attacked the front line of the Allied forces (mainly American soldiers in that area) in “the Bulge,” an area where the line between Allied and Axis forces was drawn, near the Germany/Belgium border (the Western front). This resembled a bulge, hence the name. This was a surprise attack by the Germans, who took advantage of poor weather conditions (fog, etc) with their ultimate end-goal of taking Antwerp in the north of Belgium to prevent Allies from getting supplies via the port of Antwerp. The Germans were able to make the Allies retreat, though Allies kept strongholds in Bastogne and small neighboring villages. It’s all very confusing, but in the end, the Allies conquered and were able to advance little by little, pushing back the Germans. This was very much an American battle, with lots of American soldiers lost.

We began our day by picking up our guide, Henri, who was actually a witness to the battle. He was 9 and lived in Bastogne, and his Father died in his front yard when he was hit by a German shell (the battle was marked by very heavy artillery fire). Henri was amazing and his stories were incredible. We went to the American cemetery in Luxembourg to see the graves of many who died in the Battle, including those portrayed in Band of Brothers and the famous General Patton, who led the resistance efforts. We then visited American barracks in Bastogne which have remained intact since the war. We also went into the forest to see real foxholes from the battle and the field in which an important attack to recapture the small village of Foy took place. It was crazy, as we had watched the episode of Band of Brothers about the battle on the bus that morning, and then saw the ‘real deal.’ We ended our tour by seeing the cemetery of German soldiers. It may seem controversial, but Henri pointed out that there’s a distinction between Nazis (and the SS) and German soldiers who were just doing what they were forced to. You won’t find any SS soldiers buried there.

 

It was very surreal to be in this small, very Walloonian town and see Americans glorified so prominently. However, in the eyes of those from the area, Americans are the ones who brought them freedom. Let’s hope that vision stays this year…

Leave a Reply