Return To D-Day: The Monuments Men
Everywhere we go, every person our D-Day heroes have spoken to, the words “thank you” are ever-present. If you’ve never been here, it’s hard to understand the sincere gratitude that exists in this part of the world. It’s a culture of respect unlike any I’ve ever seen. I title today’s blog The Monuments Men, not to connect in any way to the George Clooney movie, but to share with you the deep connection, in every tiny town, that dot this now so beautiful landscape.
In the northern reach of Bastone, The Mardasson Memorial is a marvel to look at and it was the first stop for our men today. As we walked closer, the enormity of the monument comes into focus. It’s huge. Shaped in the form of a five- pointed American star, the pillars below give thanks and recognition to every infantry and armored division in the U.S. Army that served here. The names of all the states in the union are etched in the stone, including the great state of Texas. We are all in awe of its beauty.
And then came the jaw dropper. Construction on this incredibly modern looking marvel, began in 1946. It looks like it was built yesterday. This site is cared-for by the people of Belgium. It is simply magnificent, and a true representation of their collective love, and respect for their American liberators. When you hear a story like this, it makes you truly question why it took our own country until 2004, to build something in their honor in our own nation’s capitol.
We travel north, along the same route that some of our men did back in 1944. Pushing through the endless, rolling fields, and As we travel north, toward what was once known as the Siegfried line, the respect for these men, and their brothers in arms, takes on a depth of meaning they did not expect. Every town we encounter, has a monument. Every monument, is placed where it will be seen most. In Vie L Salm, where the two major roads in that town come together, a Sherman tank sits on a perfectly manicured lawn with surrounding landscaping. It’s a salute to the Army’s 7th armored division.
A short drive to Foy, and there on the side of the main road, a granite and stone memorial to the men of Easy company, of the 101st Airborne. The same men profiled in the movie “Band of Brothers”, next to the same fields and forests in which they fought.
In St Vith, the Army’s second infantry division is given praise, in the form of a tall granite pillar prominently placed in the town center.
This scene is literally repeated town, after town, after town.
It’s an incredible contrast. What this place looked like 70 years ago, and the absolute beauty that sits before us today. It would be so easy to understand anyone’s desire here, to put the past away, and live life looking forward. To shy away from so much hurt, so much pain. To not talk about it. But they don’t. They do just the opposite. They embrace the struggle. They talk freely about their feelings toward men like our Texas D Day veterans. After 70 years, it’s still an overwhelming gratitude that comes completely from the heart. They are not saying it because they “think” it’s the right thing to say. They say it because it’s how they feel. You can smell anything less than genuine a mile away. You’ll never find that here.
Perhaps our Belgian guide Henri puts it best. He was 9-years-old when the Battle of the Bulge began. He remembers German soldiers raiding, and taking over his house. He was a very scared little boy. The family was forced to sleep on the floor. Their home was trashed by the SS. They all feared they would die any minute. The soldiers had no regard for Henri and his family. He recalls the cries of his mother the day their home, was destroyed inside, because of nothing more than the idle whims of despicable people. And then came the Americans. The bombs, gunfire and endless worry about living to see the next day, were gone. Replaced by these masses of men in their green field uniforms, filthy faces, yet unmistakable smiles. Sharing bars of chocolate, and this thing called “chewing gum”. The first time Henri put a piece of chewing gum in his mouth, it came from an American GI. In that moment, despite the rigors of non-stop battle, that worn out American GI took the time to share what they are all known for here now. Kindness. Those are the kind of people for whom monuments are built.
Monday brings the long travel day to Normandy. It also brings a stop for one of our men, at the very site, building, room, and table, where the end of the war was declared. He was there.
Goodnight from Bastogne.
Follow along with Doug Dunbar on his Return To D-Day series on CBS 11 and online at CBSDFW.COM
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