Friday, July 26th, 2019
We were on the bus to go spend the day in and around Bastogne. Below are pictures from the main square in Bastogne which is also called McAuliffe Square. This square honors General McAuliffe who commanded the 101st Airborne. The tank on display is an American Sherman tank and is next to a bust of McAuliffe.
We picked up our guide, Bruno, who is an active duty Belgium soldier. Our first stop was the Bastogne Barracks.
We went into the Liberty Hall. In the hall we sat and Bruno explained what was happening and where the German Line was and the US troops locations. The Germans had surrounded Bastogne. General McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 101st Airborne and he along with his division arrived in Bastogne on December 19th, 1944. Gen. McAuliffe’s headquarters was here at the Bastogne Barracks. He set up his headquarters in the 2nd Lieutenant barracks Heintz.
General McAuliffe became well known for his answer of “NUTS” when the Germans asked him to surrender on December 22, 1944 because the Germans had the town surrounded.
The headquarters of the 101st Airborne was turned into a museum in 2010. They have restored part of the barracks. It is full of exhibits and a vast collection of materials/weapons etc… used in WWII. The “NUTS” basement shows the office where the General spoke the now famous word “NUTS”! After the Normandy invasion, the Germans made one last major offensive to conquer Antwerp. There was a heavy attack by the Germans that pushed the Allied line back! On December 21st the Germans had encircled Bastogne. It was an American air raid that freed the surrounded Americans.
We saw the infamous Christmas letter and a copy of this letter was framed and given to the veterans in our group.
Our guide took us to their other display rooms. We saw the Message Room, the Ops Room, Veterans Room, the Dining Room where the officers had their Christmas meal, and the “Sad Sack Grub” Room.
They also had quite a few authentic relics. One was part of a glider.
And the highlight for some in our group was The Vehicle Restoration Center! This is filled with military armoured vehicles. Some weren’t in the building because they were being used for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day.
On our way to visit the foxholes left from the 101st Airborne or Easy Company, our bus stopped so we could visit the memorial to the 506th of the 101st Airborne Division.
You can find the 101st’s foxholes from Bizory to Foy. Easy Company fought here from December, 1944 until January, 1945, against the German forces in Foy, Belgium. The foxholes are well-preserved and accessible. We visited some of these. We were in the woods and looking out toward Foy.
After returning to the city center of Bastogne, we said goodbye to our guide Bruno and walked over to our restaurant, Léo, for a delicious lunch. Many tried the Airborne Beer with their food.
The restaurant also sold bottles with a label that commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
We had free time until we were to visit the Bastogne War Museum. We enjoyed our time walking around town and visited the Belgian Chocolate Shop. The chocolate we tried was delicious! We also did a lot of “window shopping” and walking around the town!
The picture below and on the left shows the original photo of General Bradley, General Eisenhower and General Patton surveying the destruction of Bastogne and the picture on the right shows the same spot today!
The Bastogne War Museum explains the events that lead up to WWII and throughout. You follow 4 ordinary people caught in this conflict and you get their stories from their perspective and see how their stories interconnect during the war. They are fictional characters but are based on facts! It was a Belgian boy, a young Belgian woman teacher, a German WWII officer, and an American paratrooper from the 101st. It is an interactive museum with many WWII relics. We had two hours to visit and could have used at least an other half hour to hour. The museum has 3 immersive shows that help explain the story of Bastogne and its inhabitants during the winter. The four characters tell their story throughout and they each have their own version of the war.
The Mardasson Memorial sits on a hill called Mardasson. It was dedicated in July, 1950 with 10,000 attending including General McAuliffe. This memorial was designed to honor 76,890 American soldiers killed, wounded or missing during the Battle of the Bulge. It is a 5-pointed star shape and is a tribute to the American soldiers by the Belgians. We didn’t have time to explore it or go to the top and look out over the area.
Dinner was at the same restaurant where we had lunch. Our dinner was a hamburger, frites, salad and sorbet with fresh fruit. Our tour director felt that a hamburger would be a good choice because Belgium has really good beef.
It was another full day of learning more about the Battle of the Bulge and exploring this historic area!