A reflection on Bastogne
January 30, 2012
BASTOGNE, Belgium -- I have only a basic knowledge of American history. I would by no means characterize myself as a history buff or even an enthusiast. I sat through class after class learning about the events of our history through textbooks and memorized appropriate dates and events to pass the inevitable test.
Like most Americans, I am distracted by day-to-day events and I take history for granted. Then one day I found myself working and living in Germany. History surrounded me at every pass and it was my first opportunity to see history and not just read it in textbooks.
Recently, I participated in the Bastogne historical walk held in Bastogne, Belgium. The walk commemorates those who fought and lost their lives during the Battle of the Bulge.
The Battle of the Bulge began on Dec. 16, 1944, and is known as Hitler's last offensive of World War II. It was the bloodiest battle of the war, resulting in 89,000 American casualties and 19,000 American deaths and this was just one, single battle.
What most remember about the battle is the well known story about Brig. Gen. Anthony C. MacAuliffe. When the Americans were surrounded by Germans in Bastogne a letter was sent to MacAuliffe demanding the Americans surrender.
MacAuliffe's response was simply "Nuts." MacAuliffe's response would be immortalized in history characterizing the American spirit and our unwillingness to surrender. The memorial weekend is affectionately known as the "Nuts" weekend.
A commemorative walk takes place and participants can choose between distances of 8, 18 or 23 kilometers. Each path cuts through the fields and towns our Soldiers defended. Later in the day a handful of veterans march in a parade and the day ends with nuts being thrown from the balcony of city hall into the crowd.
What I took away most from this experience was an overwhelming sense of pride for my country and for those I was honoring. As the miles and kilometers began to pile, my muscles slowly began to ache. Trudging through thick mud, we were fortunate enough to have fair weather, but as fatigue began to set in, I continued on.
During the four hours I marched, I thought about those that walked these paths before me. I thought about their suffering, their pain, and I continued to place one foot in front of the next. I was honored to pay my respect to these men who fought for our freedom; to walk in their footsteps for several hours and reflect on these men and their sacrifices.
As we passed by a German cemetery, I was also reminded that death doesn't distinguish between nationalities. The solemn cemetery was a reminder a price is paid by all and loved ones are lost on both sides.
I was moved by the diversity of those who marched: American, Belgium, French, German; men, women, children, Soldiers, civilians; young, old and even re-enactors in full uniform and gear. We had one unified purpose: to honor those who had walked these paths before us. It is truly amazing to see how this foreign country pays tribute to our Soldiers and to our country for our role in their liberation 67 years ago.
I would encourage anyone who has the privilege of serving overseas, whether military or civilian, to take part in these moments when history comes alive. This is our history and it's not just words in a textbook. This is a part of who we are and it's worth honoring.