Thursday, June 9, 2011
In Their Footsteps. . .
Today was our first day in the area of the Battle of the Bulge. We followed in the footsteps of the 101st Airborne Division all over Bastogne, Belgium. To lead us were two local experts on WWII history, Reg and Phillipe, showing us around the Belgium area.
The first thing on our agenda for the day: the hospital for the 101st Airborne troops. During the War, the Airborne Div. turned a local seminary school into a hospital for any of the wounded from the battlefields. John Primerano, a veteran from the 101st Div., shared stories with the group about his experiences while in the "makeshift" hospital. In all of the bombing and shelling that was going on overhead, somehow the room of the wounded, which had a glass ceiling, was never hit. From the way John shared, you could feel the protection of God's hand during this time of the war.
After lunch we went looking in the woods. We stopped at the Peace Woods outside Bastogne and looked for the tree of John Cipolla, a 101st veteran who has traveled with CofO before. The trees planted in these Peace Woods were each placed in honor of any Battle of the Bulge veteran who has returned since the war up to 1994.
Our next stop in the woods was at the Ardennes Forest. The Forest had kind of a somber feeling to it. Once we saw those fox holes, it was hard not to imagine what we would have done in that situation. Some of the other veterans shared their stories of digging holes for protection under constant attacks from the enemy. All week long, as the veterans have shared their stories, it has been hard not to notice how hard it is for some of these guys to share what they have been keeping back for so long. We view and respect them as the heroes they are, but they still see themselves as the kids they were, sent to do the unthinkable.
We finished out our day with a wonderful dinner at the hotel and John Primerano sharing a personal story. John shared with us his account of the first jump into enemy territory of the war. One could only describe this moment as cleaning an old wound: wounds need to be clean to heal right, but opening old wounds can be quite painful.
We have been through and learned so much about this group of veterans in the week that we have been in Europe. All of us continually aspire to learn more about this group of heroes we like to call "The Greatest Generation."