Scouts march through history
March 8, 2012
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Covered in mud, Clinton Schwarz crouched in the back of an armored jeep parked along a road in Hierlot, Belgium, his M2, 50-caliber machine gun trained down the muddy lane in anticipation of the advancing German line.
Though this could be a description during the Battle of the Bulge, it was in fact a re-enactment, and Schwarz is not a Soldier, but an Eagle Scout in Hohenfels' Boy Scout Troop 303.
Three times a year, Belgium re-enactment groups gather across the country to pay tribute to the Soldiers who fought and died in one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.
Remembrance marches are held along actual paths tromped by troops, and re-enactors are positioned to add ambience and to talk with participants about the history of the battle.
"Every year they choose different groups to retrace their steps throughout the battle, and this year they followed the 82nd Airborne Division," said Schwarz. The march specifically followed 24 kilometers along the trail of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Schwarz attended the march along with 13 fellow troop members, in a trip that was initially inspired by Lt. Col. Bryan E. Denny, brigade senior trainer at Hohenfels. As a participant of the "Remember" re-enactment group out of Belgium, Denny had participated in this re-enactment before.
"I wanted to get Troop 303 and the Remember guys together and have them learn something from one another," Denny said.
When he realized he was going to have to miss out on the trip, Denny decided to send a replacement to -- literally -- fill his shoes.
"It occurred to me that Clinton (Schwarz) is about my size, and this would be a unique way for him to participate in this," said Denny. "And this guy looks like one of the Soldiers from World War II!"
Apparently, Denny isn't the only person who thought so.
"There was a veteran from this division marching by," Schwarz said. "He told me I looked like one of his friends who had been fighting in this general area, and who had been lost up there."
"He said he had been about 19 when he was in the war, and I was one of the only people of age," said Schwarz, who is 16. "I felt like I was in place for that. He wasn't so much telling me so I would know; it was more that it stunned him a little bit and brought back some memories."
"That was a real highlight of the event," Schwarz added. "He patted me on the shoulder, smiled and walked away."
Schwarz said he and his fellow re-enactors took their responsibility to present the troops accurately very seriously.
"I had to have food that was from there. They even took some of the food and put it in ration boxes so that it looked like you were eating the same food that the Soldiers did," he said.
When the day started, Schwarz said he felt excited like "a little kid playing war," but as time wore on, his perspective shifted.
"I realized I was in exactly the same place, in the same scenario and situation as the guys who fought there, in the same foxholes that they fought, and died, and won in. It was really cool to re-enact that, like we were reliving what they did. I knew it was a re-enactment, but I felt like I was in it," he said.
"When that veteran came up, it really set in what we were doing, and how important it is that we remember it," he added.
While he may have been the only one with a complete World War II kit, Schwarz wasn't the only scout to get an up-close look at a Soldier's life. The Remember group took Troop 303 under its wing, making them honorary members and even allowing the scouts to camp out with the regiment on the battlefield.
Scoutmaster Kirstin Reed explained that the scouts' governing group, the Transatlantic Council, provides a 20-page Battle of the Bulge historic trail document, and most troops take the hike, stop off in the museum, and answer the questions.
"We got to camp with these guys on a farm, cook out in the field," she said. "We had 11-year-old boys out there living just like on the battlefield; no facilities, no running water, but not a single complaint. They had so much fun!"
"They really got to see how Soldiers could have lived in the field during World War II," Denny added.
"We owe a tremendous debt to (the Remember group) because they're not Americans, but they keep the spirit of what our grandfathers did alive," said Denny.
"They do this stuff, and most of the time they're just trying to express what our grandfathers did a bunch of Belgium kids running around, but this time they have a chance to talk with American kids about it. These are the subject experts on the battlefield and to get to talk to a bunch of American scouts about their own history was pretty special," Denny said.
For Schwarz, experiences like this are what make scouting with Troop 303 so special. Having scouted in the States for three years, Schwarz said he always had lots of fun, but never experienced the sense of growth that he feels here.
"Being over here in Europe and doing these things that changed the world and the outcome of our lives, and you get to experience a part of that," he said. "You come back from these trips here, and you get boys who are changing just over a weekend, little bit by little bit."