Bastogne walk a tribute to peace
November 21, 2008
SCHINNEN, Netherlands -- In 1944, all seven main roads in the Ardennes mountain range converged on the small town of Bastogne, Belgium, making control of these crossroads imperative for the attacking forces' advance and the one place allied forces had to defend at all cost. It remains the largest land battle in U.S. Army history.
Today, it is the sight of humbling monuments that commemorate the siege of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge and it's where the 31st Annual Bastogne Historical Walk will take place Dec. 13 to 14.
Given that the city's Christmas market is also open on these days, Bastogne is a unique setting for people from many nations, military and civilian, to enjoy moments of remembrance, seasonal spirit and peace. Every year, thousands do just that.
"I went to the historical walk last year," says Jan Maessen, a Dutch Ministry of Defense employee working at U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen, Netherlands. Two-thirds of the USAG Schinnen workforce is Dutch. "I was very impressed with how the memory is still very alive after 64 years and how people from many nations come together to enjoy a special day."
Re-enactors, some who appeared in the HBO series "Band of Brothers", set up authentic military positions along the walking route complete with period uniforms and equipment.
This year's walk passes through Mande-Saint-Etienne, which is west of Bastogne and where 101st Airborne paratroopers arrived by truck from Reims, France, Dec. 19, 1944, to block and later halt an enemy advance towards Bastogne.
The route passes beautiful countryside and quaint villages. Adding a surreal touch to the day, the re-enactors prompt novices and history buffs alike to take pause and reflect. With the number of participants under 3,000, the walk and the opportunities to participate in remembrance ceremonies provide a quiet, friendly atmosphere.
"You're walking along a beautiful wooded path then suddenly you discover them," says Maessen describing how walkers peacefully encounter the re-enactors, "and there is a calm climate of friendship. The walk is very well done." Maessen plans to join a group from USAG Schinnen on this year's walk.
Depending on when you register for the Dec. 13 walk, the cost is 5 or 6 Euros. The walk features four distances: six, 12, 20 or 30 kilometers and participants receive a certificate of participation, a souvenir patch and hot drinks at rest stops. Directions and details can be found at www.bastognehistoricalwalk.be and pre-registration is highly encouraged.
"I'm going on the walk to get an idea what Soldiers faced," says U.S. Army Sgt. Jorico Canty, who has deployed twice to Iraq and is now assigned to Schinnen's Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment. A historical center and a two-story, star-shaped American memorial, called the Mardasson Hill American Memorial, are located just outside Bastogne, which honors the American forces who participated in the battle. In all, German, American and British casualties total more than 181,000 from the fighting in the Ardennes.
From the top of this memorial, one can enjoy excellent views of the area and imagine how the battle progressed. Because the walk follows the exact route of the 1944 battle, the re-enactor emplacements representing all sides of the battle give participants a foxhole view of "then" allowing Soldiers like Canty to compare this to their experiences.
Admission to the historical center ranges from 6 to 8 Euro and details can be found at http://www.bastognehistoricalcenter.be/.
"The Bastogne historical walk passes nice areas, battle sites and the civilian-military interaction is very friendly and spontaneous," says German Air Force Lt. Col. Jan Schraudy, Executive Officer for the NATO E3A Component in Geilenkirchen, Germany. He, along with other NATO Airman, plans to participate in the walk.
"It's remarkable to see NATO military members walking together as a team of allies 64 years after that battle," Schraudy says. "The walk is great for fitness, of course, and there are many events, some with buglers and bag pipes, which makes the day special."
The NATO AWACS E3A Component has a component walking team that participates in many events throughout the year. You can contact their organizers by calling 0049-2451-633582 for Master Sgt. Klaus Rudzki or 0049-2451-633554 for Capt. Brad Domingo.