It was a short winding ride through the north side of Bastogne, to reach the former home of the 101st Airborne today.
The Battle of the Bulge base of operations for the screaming eagles, and housing, that now stands frozen in time. Part modern museum, if the walls and bricks could talk, what stories they could share. What the walls and bricks did not give up, Highland Park resident Major Brooks did.READ MORE: Truck Loses Control, Slams Into Royse City Police Officer Michael Baley While Helping Stranded Motorist
Brooks told me he knew this place well, but he’d never seen it from the ground. He’d only seen it from the air. He flew 93 missions, 70 of them in P-38’s. Many times providing top cover (fighter cover) for airborne re-supply missions, especially for drops into Bastogne, for the boys of the 101st Airborne.
He knew the rooftops of this place. The layout of the roads. How to get in, and more importantly how to get out. Alive. And then he began to share the story of the mission that had everyone’s attention. A few of our other veterans and their escorts stopped, and began to listen. Major Brooks shared a story that defines why I want to hear it from him, and not read it in a book. It was a fighter sweep, into German territory, and the Germans decide to engage. He says the boys all dropped their extra fuel tanks, and the fight was on. The Major spirals down in his P38 to help another of his boys being fired on, and for what seemed like an eternity he says, a hail of bullets and tracers came whizzing by his canopy. Germans were on his tail, and then he was on theirs. Pushing himself and his plane to the limits. But this was nothing new. It’s what he absolutely loved about his job. And you could tell. Describing each detail. The debris from shot up planes bouncing off his canopy. The looks he exchanged with his wing-man. The satisfaction he felt, when in the end, Major Brooks ended up shooting down three German Messerschmidt’s in that fight. I said three. Oh, and his P38 was shot up as well. Low on fuel, a torn up tail section, and a missing right aileron. Just another day. Just another jaw dropping story for us. His plane was sent to the scrap yard. His confirmed actions, earned Major Brooks a Silver Star.
Late morning saw a stop at Bastogne’s city hall. This is where a councilman held a ceremony honoring our Texas Veterans of D Day.
Gifts were given, but most heartfelt of all were the words, especially to those men in our group who played a role in the Battle of the Bulge. A grateful town is Bastogne. Many here remember. No one here will ever forget.
This home of now 12,000, owes a lifelong debt of gratitude to the men in this room, and their brothers in arms. He told them “Bastogne is the most Americanized city in Belgium,” and he meant it. The American flag flies daily, street after street, and not just this week – the 70th anniversary of D Day. Every day. Every month. Every year.
By afternoon, our heroes were driven to the American Cemetery in Luxembourg.
The perfectly placed rows of white crosses and Stars of David take your breath away. Each situated perfectly, amid rich green grass and beautiful trees to watch over the 5,076 souls who are buried here.
Among then the General of the 3rd Army, George S. Patton Jr.
It was Patton who maneuvered the Army to Bastogne during the brutal cold winter of 1944 to neutralize the German counter offensive.
75% of the men who are at rest here in Luxembourg fought in the Bulge. But while most were killed in some sort of field action, it was the story of one man buried here, and his ten brothers in arms, that hit very close to home for D Day veteran Ormand Knowles, and his wife.
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On December 17th, 1944, when Hitler’s forces had advanced quickly, 11 American soldiers were cut off from the rest of their men in this area. They were caught. They were lined up, and then they were executed.
They were black.
For Mr. Knowles, an African American who served his country proudly during WWII, while even being segregated within his own Army, this atrocity has a deeper meaning.
10 of the 11 men’s remains were shipped home to the states. At the Luxembourg cemetery, the 11th was laid to rest.
Ormand told me that the news of the execution had made the Stars And Stripes military paper way back then. What did not was the fact that each of those 11 men, serving the United States of America, was African American.
Ormand’s wife is brought to tears by visiting the grave site. Who was his family. Do they know he is here. Does he know that we care. And the most maddening question of all. Why.
There is not much talk on the bus ride back to Bastogne. There doesn’t need to be. There is an unspoken discussion happening between all of us. So much taken in today. So much to comprehend.
This day has brought a wide range of emotions for all our men. It has brought closure for some. More questions for others. It brought the thanks of a town forever in debt to the service of those once fresh-faced young men who took this town 70-years ago, and gave it back, to its rightful owners.
Goodnight, from Bastogne.
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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