Battle of the Bulge Tour Day 4 – Southern Shoulder October 17, 2017

Plan for the Day: follow the Our River down south in Germany to Dasberg where we crossed into Luxemburg to Roth, where we crossed back to Germany and continued to Wallendorf and the Bunker overlooking the Our & Sauer Rivers where Hitler is rumored to have personally visited on a tour of the West Wall while under construction. We literally stood on the same spot he was rumored to have stood looking into Luxembourg. It was a little creepy.

First stop: the European Monument commemorates the founding of the European Community in 1957. http://europadenkmal.eu/#beispiel-seite (remember to use Google Translate). Although not specifically related to the Battle of the Bulge, it’s a quiet pretty site, nonetheless. Within a stones throw of the monument is the spot where Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg all meet. There’s a small stream with a footbridge that overlooks the spot in the center of the stream that is the actual meeting place of the three countries.

Second stop: German Wayside Chapel. This tiny chapel has an interesting story (https://www.google.com/maps/@50.1431967,6.1669505,2997m/data=!3m1!1e3 Now get in there nice and tight and you can see the shadow of the windmill to the east of the farm at the second intersection but before the tight right hand 90 degree bend in the road). It appears a column of Nazi soldiers were marching along past this wayside chapel when an officer decided to put a bullet into the pretty Icon of Mary holding an infant Christ child. Standing in the doorway, he shot his rifle at the icon at nearly point blank range (the whole chapel is 5’-7’ square – just enough to let one person come in, light a candle and kneel in prayer). The bullet passed through the icon, ricocheted off the wall behind it, penetrated the icon again, now heading directly back from whence it came. It struck the fool soldier right in the head and killed him instantly. He fell backwards in the doorway where he was left as the rest of the column marched by.

It appears the icon was only minimally repaired. I can’t tell for sure, but the icon appears to be painted on a sheet of metal as it looks as though there’s some rust oxidation on the edges of the bullet holes. The entry and exit holes seem to have been smoothed and sealed but otherwise left alone. They haven’t been repainted over. The scars still mar the pretty icon. Perhaps as a lesson for all what happens when a wayside chapel is desecrated.

Third stop: Eschfeld parish church of St. Luzia. This is a small church with beautiful frescos on just about every available surface of the interior. All (or perhaps most) were painted by the priest, Christoph Marz, a self-taught artist. https://christoph-maerz.jimdo.com/seine-werke/kirche-eschfeld/ He is buried in the cemetery outside his church.

Also in the cemetery (as in most parishes in Germany) is a memorial to all the local boys killed or missing in service of their country. Often just a stone monument with names and dates from which you can deduce the war in which they perished.

Fourth stop: Stolzembourg, Luxembourg. This is the location of the 1st crossing into Nazi Germany by the 5th Armored Division on 9/11/1944.

Fifth stop: Supper break: in Vianden along the Our River at Auberge de l’Our. http://www.aubergevianden.lu/en/ (I had a lovely river trout – served with the head still on it… was not expecting that!). Apparently Vianden is where Victor Hugo would go to visit his mistress and to write, as it’s a quiet town and removed from the wagging tongues in France. There’s a hotel with his name as well as a museum in his house.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vianden http://www.vianden-info.lu/english/visits-und-discoveries/historical-patrimony/victor-hugo-house Unfortunately, time did not permit visits to those places.

Sixth Stop: After dinner, we continued on to down river to Wallendorf-Pont to see the large bunker overlooking the intersection of the Our and Sauer rivers along the border of Germany and Luxembourg (Wallendorf is in Germany and Pont is in Luxembourg). This is West Wall country! There are bunkers and fortifications everywhere. Then up to the high ground above Wallendorf to the bunker Hitler was rumored to have visited.

Seventh Stop: Echternacht, Luxembourg to see the multi-division monument by the Sauer River.

In Gratitude to the valiant soldiers of the 83d-4th and 5th US Inf. Divs. who liberated the city of Echternacht Oct – Dec 1944, and to the 76th Inf. Div who crossed the river Sauer here on Feb – 7- 1945 Ending the Nazi oppression of our Country. – the citizens of Echternacht.

(note that the area of Echternacht was to the right of Consdorf on this map in the cluster of red arrows and green notes right on the river that marks the border between Luxembourg and Germany).

Echternacht, Luxembourg Monument

Luxembourg was, obviously the furthest southern end of the Bulge. US troops were holding the line throughout Luxembourg, and the Germans attacked through Luxembourg as through Belgium. The battles in Luxembourg were every bit as ugly as those in the area where the 106th was fighting. Areas of Luxembourg were captured by Germans and then liberated when the Germans were forced to retreat back across their recently captured territory. Echternacht was one of those cities so liberated.

For an excellent overview of the battles for the southern shoulder, this link is very good and includes at least a passing mention of what we saw on this day of touring.

http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/fiery-fight-for-a-frozen-hell/

From Echternacht, we drove through Rosport, Lux, which was the furthest southern edge of the area encompassed by the “Bulge”.

Eighth Stop: Luxembourg American Cemetery and Monument to see Patton’s grave near Luxembourg (city). There is a chapel there, as well as a large monument to the battle.

https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/luxembourg-american-cemetery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxembourg_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial

There is a very pretty small chapel directly in front of the entrance. It’s like a small castle tower. Inscribed on the outside wall facing the entry.

1941 ** 1945 In proud remembrance of the achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices this memorial has been erected by the United States of America.

It is quite small with room for 3 kneelers on either wall, the alter, and a small spot for flowers – which appear to be regularly left by the organizers of bus tours, and other visitors – and the entryway. It’s perhaps 10’-12’ feet square. The ceiling is quite impressive also.

Here’s Doug’s explanation of the iconography on the ceiling: “It’s a depiction of the four Archangels… They’re supporting the heavens (at the center) and the symbolic dove (of peace) flying high above the firmament (cemetery) beneath them.”

There are two battle map monuments. I only photographed the one relating to the Battle of the Bulge to the left of the chapel. The one on the right of the chapel (not photographed) relates to the Western European Operations. On the backs of each are listed the names of the MIA. A few have been identified and now rest in marked graves.

On the edge of the terrace is a quote from Eisenhower carved into the paving:

All who shall hereafter live in freedom will be here reminded that to these men and their comrades we owe a debt to be paid with grateful remembrance of their sacrifice and with the high resolve of the cause for which they died shall live eternal.

The text on the left side of the battle map:

On 6 Jun 1944 preceded by airborne units and covered by naval and air bombardment, United States and British Commonwealth forces landed on the coast of Normandy. Pushing southward they established a beach-head some 20 miles in depth. On 25 July, in the wake of a paralyzing air bombardment, the US First Army broke out of the beach-head and was soon joined by the US Third Army. Together they repulsed a powerful counterattack toward Avranches. Crushed between the Americans on the South and West and the British on the North attacked continuously by the US Eighth and Ninth Air Forces and the Royal Air Force, the enemy retreated across the Seine.

Sustained by herculean achievements of the Army and Navy supply personnel, the Allied Armies and Air Forces pursued vigorously. By mid-September the US Ninth Army had liberated Brest; the First Army was standing on the threshold of Germany; the Third Army had reached the Moselle and had joined the US Seventh and French First Armies advancing Northward from the Mediterranean. Progress in the next three months was slow, the fighting bitter. Metz fell as the Third Army moved into the Saar.

The enemy launched in the Ardennes is final major counter-offensive on 16 December 1944. Prompt tactical counter-measures and the superb fighting qualities of American soldiers and airmen halted the drive. During February and March the West bank of the Rhine was cleared. In rapid succession American forces seized a bridge at Remagen, crossed at Oppenheim, then joined the British in the major assault North of the Ruhr. Sweeping across Germany the Allies met the advancing troops of the USSR to force the complete surrender of the enemy on 8 May 1945, 337 days after the initial landings in France.

Text on the right side of the map:

On 16 December 1944 the enemy made his last concerted effort to stave off defeat by unleashing three armies on a narrow front. Prepared in greatest secrecy and launched under cover of fog and rain, his attack in the Ardennes was initially successful. Breaking through on a 45-mile front, his forces penetrated over 60 miles. But American soldiers fighting valiantly held the critical shoulders of the salient.

Reacting promptly and decisively, the Allies rushed all available reserves to the scene. A furious struggle developed at St. Vith where the enemy advance was stubbornly delayed. At Bastogne, although surrounded for five days, American troops, with the help of supplies dropped by IX troop carrier command aircraft, maintained their defense. On 22 December the Third Army counterattacked on the southern flank of the penetration. The next day skies cleared and the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces plunged into the battle. The Third Army continued its advance through bitterly cold weather, reaching Bastogne on 26 December. The First Army’s counterattack came on 3 January 1945. On the 1th the two armies met a Houffalize. The salient was reduced by 25 January.

In February the Third Army forced its way through the Siegfried Line, captured Trier and by 5 March had established bridge-heads across the Kyll. The next day it launched its attack North of the Moselle. Preceded by aircraft of the Ninth Air Force, its ground troops swept forward to join the First Army on the Rhine. Then on 13 March, American forces South of the Moselle advanced; those West of Koblenz swung to the Southeast to join this assault. Having cleared the west bank by 21 March, the Third Army rushed across the Rhine at Oppenheim the next night.

Also at this cemetery is the resting place of Gen. George Patton. He died in a car wreck after peace broke out in Europe. There is some mystery about the circumstances of his death. However, he was buried in Luxembourg Cemetery with plenty of pomp and circumstance befitting his record of service in two wars (if not his politically incorrect ways). Later, when his wife Beatrice died in 1953 of an aneurism while riding her horse, her family had her cremated and snuck into the cemetery to sprinkle her ashes on the grave of her beloved “Georgie”. Unlike in US National VA Cemeteries, wives are not permitted to be buried with their spouses in European Military Cemeteries. Not even George and Beatrice Patton.

It’s a pretty cemetery: solemn and peaceful. We got there late in the day just before closing during the afternoon sweet light perfect for photos. I was very moved by the inscription on the graves of unknown soldiers – who remain unidentified 73 years later – reminding me that many families were denied knowing exactly what happened to their boy, the comfort of closure, and a place (albeit it far from home) to visit their dead. “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms, known but to God.”

In the visitor center is a framed print of “In the Company of Heroes – A Silent Reunion” by Matt Hall

2nd Ba
Company of Heroes – A Silent Reunion by Matt Hall

http://www.matthallstudios.com/print/in-the-company-of-heroes/ tells the story as this is based on an actual cemetery visit. I was quite moved by the print after that long day of touring and hearing the stories of the battles. Then when I came home and read that it was based on an actual visit to the cemetery, I was doubly affected. There is a little liberty taken in the print, however, as the graves are not oriented in this alignment relative to the chapel as you can see in my photos. However, the living and the dead on either side of the cross grave marker with the chapel in the background is a powerful image.

Ninth Stop – Mardasson Memorial in Bastone.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mardasson_Memorial

We arrived as the sun was setting and the lighting was not very good for pictures, unfortunately. Doug and Mom strolled and talked while I ran around furiously taking photos. It’s a pretty spot, on high ground. The name is taken from the pond, le Mare at the bottom of the hill called the Asson so “le Mar d’Asson” became “Mardasson”. I’m not sure how that relates to the Memorial to the soldiers who fought in the Bulge, but regardless it’s an impressive memorial. The Memorial is huge – 32 feet tall in the shape of a 5-pointed American star with each point of the star measuring 102 feet in length with a circular atrium that’s 66 feet wide. You can climb up a spiral stair to get to the roof, and have a commanding view of the countryside. All the units that participated in the battle are listed on the walls of the star-points as well as each of the (then) 48 states of the USA plus Alaska and Hawaii from which all the soldiers in the units were drawn. Beneath the monument is a crypt with three alters for the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish services and a tile mosaic.

There is a marker stone that sums up the purpose of the whole memorial:

The Belgian people remember their American liberators. – July 4, 1946.

There are inscribed panels on the walls, which nicely summarize the entire battle and – most importantly – the enduring gratitude of the Belgian people. I only took a photo of one panel, and unfortunately, the bottom is cut off, but with the help of the Internet, I have the whole inscription, which encompasses 10 panels.

            This Memorial and the earth surrounding are dedicated to the enduring friendship of the peoples of Belgium and the United States who forged their bond from their common struggle to defeat the enemy of all free peoples…

            For the armies of the United States in numbers of mend engaged in the courage shown by all forces in the intrepid decision of their leaders and in the final accomplishment, it was on e of the great battles of their history.

            For the people of Belgium, it was the final stand against an enemy who for nearly five years had violated their soil and vainly tried to crush their national spirit. It was the last act of the great liberation.

            The uniformed ranks of the United States fought for this soil…as if it had been their homeland. The Belgian civilians, unarmed, refused to abandon it in face of the oncoming enemy…

            The Battle of the Bulge opened on December 16, 1944 with an attack by the German enemy, which broke the American front. Enveloped by the Ardennes country and at its extremities, reached almost to the River Meuse…

            It closed in the final week of January, 1945.

            The far object of the German enemy was to be the port of Antwerp…

            The battle began with fog and darkness…

            The thin defending line was overwhelmed and broken under weight of fire and metal.

            The Ardennes door lay open…

            Through three great gaps in the line, the spearheads were advancing towards St. Vith from both flanks around the Schnee Eifel… Towards Bastogne after leaping the River Our…

            Of reserves, the theatre had but two divisions, under-manned and under-equipped.

            In the North, near Monschau there is a ridge called Elsenborn, which is nature’s bastion guarding the road to Liege and the far-off port.

            In the very hour when the enemy loosed his lightning, an American Corps was attacking near this ground.

            As the shock of the enemy guns and armor fell on these divisions their right flank folded back and stood fast on the heights of Elsenborn.

            On the hills near Monschau, the line of American guns beat time with this movement, and their fire withered the enemy corps on the right.

            Together, the working of these forces at the beginning denied the enemy his chance to expand his salient towards the great cities and the sea…

            From out of the North American armor rode to St. Vith at first a combat team and then a division.

            From out of the south, a garrison rode for Bastogne. It counted on the air-borne division and a team of armor on the ground. It would link with a battalion of tank destroyers sent from the North…

            Right under the guns the oddments joined the fighting, repairmen, clerks, police, and drivers of trucks, they picked up arms and moved to a threatened crossroads or blew a bridge or guarded the precious stores.

            In Britain, the newly arrived formations were alerted to go by air to defend the line of the Meuse.

            The base of supply in France reorganized to feed the battle’ its convoys were going elsewhere were halted and faced about.

            At St. Vith the enemy already swarmed over the country. But the rescuing armor arrived in time to block the road, blunt the blow, and cripple the enemy power during the crisis hours.

            The spearhead of the Panzer army in the North rolled of the flank of this defense and on, past Stavelot then, in the defiles beyond the river Ambleve, it was trapped and held by the new forces of the counter-attack. The fighting was within twenty miles of Liege.

            The race to Bastogne was won by the American column’ it closed in just in time to confront an enemy armored corps. The fighting began before the defenders could take position. They organized under fire from enemy guns.

            In this way began the siege now famed in history. The lines of Bastogne held firm, though the storm beat all around. By direct assault, the enemy armored corps tried to gain the city. Its men and metal were driven back at every point.

            And so the defeated armor flowed on around Bastogne still seeking to gain the line of the River Meuse…

            It’s spearpoint reached almost to the door of Dinant before it was stopped by the fire of the new American Line…

            The defeat of this Southern Panzer army was made sure by the stand of Bastogne.

            To the south of the Bulge, an American army had been attacking Eastward. It was called now to halt and wheel to the North. It’s nearest corps moved out upon this mission. From out of the corps, one division struck towards Bastogne…

            The weather at last turned cold…

            The loss from exposure grew great, as the loss from fire. Attacking in snow boots, the enemy could scarcely be seen. Bastogne became the chief prize in the daily struggle as men fought for shelter and for warmth.

            The fold of the Ardennes opened their hearts and hearths to the defenders. They shared with them their food, their blankets, and their fuel. They tore up their bedsheets for use in concealing men and weapons. They nursed the wounded and helped to comfort the ill…

            By Christmas Eve, the enemy knew that his plan was defeated…

            But there was no sudden strategic retreat. Every hill and roadway had to be re-won by firepower and by paying a price in the lives of valiant men…

            In the battle fought here 76,890 Americans were killed, or wounded, or were marked missing…

            Seldom has more American blood been spilled in the course of a single battle.

            The number of Belgians who died or suffered wounds or great privation helping these friends from overseas in the common defense cannot be known…

            Of these dead and all who fought here, the now living may attest the greatness of the deed only by increased devotion to the freedom for which they braved the fire.

There is also a statue called “the Kiss” by Seward Johnson installed there – I think temporarily. It’s taken from the photo that was in Life magazine taken on V-J Day Peace in Times Square. I’d heard it was there and saw some pictures of it before arriving and thought I’d hate it, but it’s actually kind of sweet. The woman in the photo and the statue is Greta Zimmer Friedman she died in September 2016 at the age of 92. The Sailor was George Mendosa, who died in March 2014.

Ninth Stop: Bastogne City Square Tourist Information Center on General McAuliff Place.

It was closed when we got there, but the point of the visit was not the center, but rather the American tank parked outside with a plaque.

“This tank, knocked out December 44, recalls the sacrifice of all the fighters for the liberation of Bastogne and Belgium.”

It amazes me how much military hardware is still knocking around in Germany and Belgium. It’s sort of melancholy. The soldiers of both sides did their jobs, and then just left. The heavy equipment was just abandoned where it was. Municipalities just seem to have dragged some of it (tanks, anti-tank guns, etc.) to the city square or some park, or just the corner of a parking lot, and stuck a plaque on it as a reminder. Then the residents spend the rest of their lives walking by it. They live their lives with the daily reminder of what happened. Kids play on them, tourists stop by for photos, and billboards and commerce surround them. Life goes on. All the while the metal sits there silently guarding the story of what it was used for, and what happened to the soldiers who used it. What if all the stories that this tank was part of were be told? Would it be fear, sorrow, death, or heroism, survival, and victory that it would tell of? Does that tank miss its human partners who animated it, and the days of battle? Or is it perhaps glad to be left alone and out of the stupidity of humanity. Perhaps it prefers being climbed on by a child and being a background to selfies over being used for its intended purpose.

Tenth Stop: We walked across the square to Lio’s grill where we had dinner and – surprise! A Trappist Rochfort beer (which was delicious!).

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Lio’s+Grill+Pizzeria+sprl/@50.0008026,5.7149176,238m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x47c0190766be12a9:0x8e0335fd38c08aeb!8m2!3d50.001165!4d5.7153601

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