More On Belgium

29 Jun

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.

Hubby and me at Drielandenpunt.

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.

The guys pondering the view from the tower.

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.

Annelies and Yves at Drielandenpunt.

Annelies and me with what I thought was a soldier, but was actually a very stiff but quite smiley and welcoming letter carrier.

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.

Hubby overlooking the burial area.

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.

Brothers.

Fathers.

Husbands.

Sons.

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.

In Honored Memory of Those Who Gave Their Lives for Their Country

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

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

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.

Unknown Soldier

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…

5 Replies to “More On Belgium

  1. At least the tower was only 1 euro; there’s nothing worse than paying 20 or 40 bucks for something and then being really disappointed by it. Oh, the numbers of examples I could give!

    Cemeteries are also tough for me. From a historical perspective I feel like it’s important to visit. But they are very sobering, as you say, and I *always* end up crying. Hell, I got a little teary just looking at your pictures!

  2. You didn’t mention that in that first picture we have our hands in three countries at one time! You’ll never get to do that in the States!

    A WWII cemetery was a must see for me. Although I’m not aware of any close relatives that were killed in that war, as an American I felt that it was my duty to pay my respects to those that gave their lives so far from home. I was unprepared for how emotionally draining the visit was – it was, as you said, a very powerful, sobering and humbling experience.

  3. The cemetery was very impressive – especially realizing that, however big it was, it only holds a small portion of the graves of those who died. I still find it incredible that these are not mentioned in your guidebooks – you would think something as important as this would get at east a paragraph or two…. I mean, it was a World War, not just a tiny local conflict! Like you, I am really glad we visited the cemetery, and I was impressed by how well it is maintained (as it should!).

    On a lighter note, I giggled when I read your story about our mishap with the tower. I cannot believe how stupid that was!! And I also still cannot believe you got me to pose with you for that silly restaurant sign. 🙂 (I recall how you said “There’s this really cool statue of a solder over there that I just HAVE to get a picture of.”)

  4. I have a thing about getting my picture taken with stuff like that. Usually it’s bears though. And it was a cool statue, in a weird sort of way. 🙂

  5. It’s just not right to make me laugh so much through the first part of your post. I loved that you climbed the wrong tower because it’s definitely something I can identify with. But then you overwhelmed me and made me cry in the second part. Everything you wrote was so moving and so touching. The pictures are beautiful and I so love that you reminded me of what I knew but never ever thought about. These were young men who lost their loves in this particular area and when you wrote about just two of them it spoke volumes because its a reminder that everyone of them has a story. And most of all, I’m glad they have this beautiful cemetery but it breaks my heart for the mothers of all these soldiers. I’m so sad that they couldn’t send the bodies home.

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