Today we took a trip to Bastogne, Belgium, the heart of World War Two’s Battle of the Bulge. While in Bastogne we visited the Mardasson Memorial, the Bastogne War Museum, and took a trip into the city for lunch
The Mardasson Memorial is an impressive monument to the sacrifices of American soldiers in the liberation of Bastogne and the rest of the western front. The memorial starts light heartedly with a larger than life statue of the “V-J Day in Times Square” kiss. It then progresses to a tall cement star surrounding a small garden. The star has the names of the then 48 states on its arms and on the inside. After a quick photo-op with the “Georgia” section of the memorial we were free to explore and experience the area. The most impressive section was the top of the memorial itself. After a scaling a small spiral staircase you could walk around the top of the memorial and view the area in which the battle took place. Small plaques at each arm of the star told you what you were looking at and what happened in each direction. Being able to get an overview of the actual land the battle took place on made it feel all that more real. This was especially impactful when coupled with the museum that followed.
The Bastogne War Museum is a moving tribute to the lives that were lost in the battle for liberation while also being incredibly informative and helping visitors understand the battle. The museum follows the journeys of 4 main characters. The first, Emile, is a young Belgian boy who is growing up during the war and learns to live under Nazi occupation and through the stress of battle. We see how Emile has much of his childhood taken from him during the war and how he must quickly grow up after the loss of his family during the battle for liberation. The next story we follow is that of Mathilde, young school teacher in Bastogne. Under the occupation, she runs messages for the Belgian resistance and during the battle she shelters children in the cellar of one of Emile’s uncles. She shows how much of the native population responded to the war and the battle and the responsibility they took on in a time of great fear and danger. The third actor we hear from is Hans, a German Lieutenant who fought at Stalingrad and ends up captured in the battle. Hans shows us that the soldiers on the other side of the battle weren’t monsters, just people raised and indoctrinated in a toxic culture. Hans reaches redemption in the end of the story, as after he survives the war he becomes active in West German Politics working to redeem and reunify his country. The last person we hear from is Robert, an American soldier deployed on the western front who is trapped in the city of Bastogne during the battle. Robert shows us the chaos that soldiers lived through during the war. He also reminds us of the costs of war since he lost his brother in the pacific campaign and his son in Vietnam.
These stories guide us through the museum, bringing a unique and human element to the battle. The interactive films serve as flashbacks for visitors. The connections that we built with the actors in helped us connect to their experiences.
After the museum, we took a short trip into the city of Bastogne itself. While the lunch that we had was excellent, the most amazing thing was seeing how the city managed to come back from the battle. In the area that we saw there were almost no signs that most of the city was destroyed only 70 years before. The resilience of the population to rebuild their home after such a tragedy is admirable and was amazing to see.
Tomorrow, we are going to see the Lorraine American Cemetery. After experiencing the memorial and the museum I hope that we are better able to appreciate the cemetery with our improved understanding of what life was like during the war.