Saturday, June 11, 2011
A Divine Appointment
By Cailin Casey
Reg Jung, our guest tour guide, finished his detailed research on Wednesday night. His hard work allowed him to pinpoint the exact place in the Battle of the Bulge that my dear veteran Mr. Ned Knapp fought. Accomplished and determined, Reg strode in at breakfast Thursday morning and pointed at Mr. Knapp's nametag, "You're the guy I want to talk to! You fought at LaRoumiere Hill!" And in the manner of a schoolboy confessing to stealing from the cookie jar, Ned Knapp answered, "Yes."
With a special stop for Mr. Knapp planned, and Belgian waffles scarfed down, we boarded the bus. Our first stop was the memorial in the village of Buagnez, in the town of Malmedy. Here, the Belgian and American flags fly over a plaque in rememberance of a group of men that were slaughtered by the Nazis on December 17th, 1944. Out of the 150 men that the Nazis ambushed, only 40 men escaped. Bill Kamsler, one of our adorable veterans, picked up three of those bodies en route to Holland. Two died before they reached the hospital. Along a brick wall, there are plaques each bearing the name of those brutally killed by the Nazis that day.
On the bus again we passed through the site of the Battle of the Twin Villages. The Allied Defense of those villages was vital to holding the North Shoulder of the Bulge and thereby stopping German advance north. Losing that battle, Hitler changed plans and focused on Bastogne.
We arrived in Elsborn Ridge, part of the North Shoulder of the Bulge. One of the first things I noticed about the Ardennes Forest was the thick covering of pine needles on the forest floor. They cushioned my feet and put a spring in my step. Subsequently, I thought of this floor buried beneath several feet of snow, perhaps up to the knees. I watched the gold sunlight spill through the green rushes of pine needles the trees held high. The light illuminated the green of the moss that blanketed rocks and roots, and made those inches of fallen needles glow yellow. Only 67 years ago, my eyes would have seen the gleaming white and the spilled red. The gray skies surely would not have lent light to give joy to the eye. Apart from the veterans and my friends, the forest was quiet and tranquil, and if forests had personalities, I would say the Ardennes was peaceful silent in spite and defiance of a much louder time. At first glance, a foxhole is a famous hole in the ground. A tourist can stand in them for photos and comb them over for shrapnel and other war relics. Sixty-seven years ago, a foxhole was a soldier's closest thing to home, their bed, their couch in the sitting room. It was the place they left and hoped to forget, or the place they died and will never be forgotten. With all of this in their hearts, my fellow students and I moved gently about this hallowed ground, preserving memories.
We said au revior to the Ardennes and made our way to Witzfeld for luch at "The Biker Retaurant" (not kidding). It was a beautiful and family owned restaurant. I am going to miss three course meals when I go home to three packets of Ramen.
Next we visited the memorial of Lt. Richond Wiegound, 289th Regiment, 75th Division. In the field next to where the monument stands today, 18 year old Bryan Sperry stood with a 75 caliber anti-tank machine gun. German tanks on higher ground were approaching and raining fire on them. Sperry knew he couldn't take the tank out with his machine gun, try as he did. Lt. Wiegound launched a bazooka at the side of the lead German tank, where the sheild is thinner, taking it out and forcing the Germans to retreat. "I've said at least a hundred times, that man saved my life," said Mr. Sperry, after laying flowers next to his monument.
Boarding the bus, we were about to go to the place that Reg was so excited to take us, and the place Mr. Knapp had not set foot in 67 years. La Roumiere Hill carves its way up the Belgian landscape at a 45 degree angle, and leads to the highest grounds. It was here that Mr. Kanpp fought all the way up that hill, with the Germans firing down, and was the very first to reach the top. "Did you ever think you would survive?" asked one student. "No," said Mr. Kanpp, "Every day I said that no one will survive this war."