My last post described our first couple of days in Belgium (Tuesday – Wednesday). This post covers most of our day on Thursday. We squeezed a lot of very cool stuff into four short days. I had help with the planning though.
Once Hubby and I had decided the Europe trip was a go, it was left up to Annelies and I to plan our time in Belgium. She asked Hubby if there was any place in particular he’d like to go. After a bit of thought, he said “castles and a World War II cemetery.” She and I each did a bit of research. I left the castle bit up to Annelies. It was my job to select a cemetery. (The cemetery thing was easier said than done since none of my stupid tour guides even mentioned World War II cemeteries.) Although there are plenty of castles near where they live, most of the cemeteries are in the southeastern part of the country near the Ardennes. It was sort of far to just drive down and back in one day, so Annelies and I put our heads together and decided an overnight trip to Luxembourg City would be fun.
I made the plans for the overnight. In other words, I selected the hotel. She had to decide which cemetery would be most convenient AND plan an interesting to and from route.
She did a pretty good job, too. Our first stop was Drielandenpunt, the border tripoint where Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands meet. Before we got to that particular spot, however, we climbed a tower so we could supposedly look out over all three countries at one time.
We paid €1 each and climbed this old, somewhat rickety and definitely unmarked tower to see a pleasant but sort of underwhelming view.
Annelies commented that one would think there’d be signs or something saying “in this direction is Germany, here the Netherlands and over here is Belgium.” To be honest, there probably were signs on the tower. The problem was, we weren’t on the right tower. Once we did find the right tower, we didn’t want to climb the thing. We just wanted to get the obligatory touristy pictures and skeedaddle.
And that’s exactly what we did.
After capturing those lovely photos, we ate a nice little lunch at the nearby Taverne De Grenssteen, which looked oddly American, but served pretty tasty food.
Once lunch was finished, we were back on the road to the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.
Seeing the National World II Memorial in Washington, DC is one thing. Reading all about the war and its various battles is something else. But actually driving through the countryside where thousands upon thousands of very young men fought and died is different. Seeing the 57-acre immaculately tended cemetery first-hand where 7,992 of our military dead are buried was a very powerful, sober and humbling experience.
There were 405,399 American casualties in World War II. I cannot say I know of any relatives who perished during the war. But that doesn’t mean I found the cemetery and memorial any less moving.
These were not anonymous “troops” in a dusty history book. These were real, honest-to-God men.
And they all died fighting on a cold, lonely battlefield miles and miles away from their homes. From their loved ones.
It was a lot to take in.
Seeing the names on the markers, I couldn’t help but imagine their faces. I read the name on one headstone. Then another. And another. Standing before each and reading all of the names would take DAYS.
I am very grateful that the American Battle Monuments Commission does such a fantastic job maintaining this cemetery and memorial. And, as sad as it was to see, I am so very glad that we decided to visit.
Jack M. Rothstein was a Corporal in the U.S. Army, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, who entered the service from New York. He died on December 17, 1944, having first won the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. He is buried at Plot H Row 13 Grave 69.
Charles A. Moore, Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 66th Regiment, 2nd Armored Division. Entered the Service from: California. Died on January 4, 1945. Buried at: Plot H Row 4 Grave 63. Awards: Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart.
It really is a powerful place. I hope to return to Europe one day soon. When I do, I’d like to visit some of the other cemeteries. If you are interested in learning more about the cemeteries, be sure to visit the American Battle Monuments Commission Web site.
My next post will cover our last day in Belgium. I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our memories so far…