While my dad was visiting a few weeks ago, we decided to take a day trip to Bastogne. It's under two hours from where we live and is a beautiful drive through rolling hills and little towns. In case you're not familiar, the siege of Bastogne was a major turning point in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. I knew a bit about it from the series Band of Brothers - if you haven't watched it, I highly recommend you do so immediately. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch for free using Prime Video (...and if you don't have it, you should - you can try it out and watch the series here with a free 30 day trial)!
And in case you didn't already know this about me, I am utterly fascinated by war history - especially WWII. I wouldn't call myself a history buff per se, but I'm always intrigued by the individual stories and perspectives. Perhaps it's because of the little bit I know about my granddaddy's time in the Marines or maybe it's simply because the stories and the ways these events have shaped the world we live in today are fascinating, but I'm a sucker for it.
We started at the Bastogne War Museum, tucked in the quiet Belgian countryside just outside of the city. The museum was beautifully laid out and included a great deal of information and artifacts along with a well done audio tour chronicling the perspectives of an American soldier, a German soldier, a member of the resistance movement, and a young Belgian boy.
It began with timelines of World War I, Hitler's rise to power, and Belgium's role in the wars.
American soldiers in vehicles like these pulled children inside for rides and shared treats such as bubblegum with them.
The preserved newspapers updating Americans stateside of the goings on were especially interesting.
Outside the museum is the Mardasson Memorial, completed in 1950 and dedicated to the American soldiers who fought and sacrificed in the Battle of the Bulge.
When we left the museum, we took a backroad and stumbled across a memorial honoring 'E' Company of the 101st Airborne division, who defended Bastogne from foxholes in the very woods behind this monument.
The city of Bastogne and the surrounding countryside are filled with monuments, flags, and war memorabilia recognizing the U.S. troops and the sacrifice they made to protect the people of Bastogne.
It was truly a humbling experience to visit this place, and if you're ever close enough to the area to make a day trip, I highly recommend it. It's so easy to forget that the increasingly distant history was once a present reality and seeing a place like this up close and personal is a great reminder of that.