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Foxholes, "Nuts" and Voie du Liberte

Bastogne Battle Foxhole photoIt has been 70 years since elements of the 101st Airborne made famous in an HBO series “Band of Brothers” held back the German siege of the southeast Belgian city of Bastogne in the Ardennes forest. It is rare indeed that after so long a time, a war battlefield remains essentially as the soldiers who fought and died on bloody soil left it. Such a place can be found a few kilometers outside of Bastogne in the Belgian Ardennes. In section of forest surrounded by open fields one can walk among the same 101st Airborne Mrker photoactual foxholes where American solders huddled in the snow and bitter winter cold of the December of 1944, a thin line holding against the German 507th Panzer Corps around the small village of Foy (pronounced “fwa”). The foxholes have been slowly filling with dirt and needles fallen from the pines, and the occasional careless can of Belgian beer left by partying teens over the decades, but remain mostly as if abandoned yesterday. There are no signs to mark the location, just a small monument to the 101st on the road several hundred yards away. To find it, pretty much takes a guide, which is probably why the battleground has survived.

McAuliffe Square Bastogne Battle Monument photoThe Siege of Bastogne is probably one of the best known incidents of WWII and a symbol of the “Battle of the Bulge” for Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe’s one word answer to the German demand for surrender, “Nuts”, perhaps recognized for its simple uniquely American plain spoken defiance. The Battle for Bastogne involved far more than the 101st in the siege which lasted of nearly a month, included the 28th Infantry an Engineer corps and artillary units, including the all African-American 969th Field Artillery unit. The town defender were eventually liberated by clearing weather for air support and the arrival of General Patton’s Third Army.

Bastogne was almost completely destroyed in the siege of 1944. A few old historic buildings survive, but separated by empty spaces or post war construction. The town of Bastogne was in the middle ages made an important crossroads for its markets and cattle fairs. Once protected by stone walls, ordered dismantled by France’s King Louis XIV in 1688, Bastogne had the misfortune to be directly on the path from Germany into the heart of Belgium, suffering a brutal fate in two world wars. Once a railway intersection of several rail lines, the town today has no rail service. It’s lovely old station remains as a café and office park where the local bus stops. The Port de Treves, a stone gate tower is the only remaining vestige of the stone fortification which guarded the town in medieval times.

Sherman Tank McAuliffe Square photoThe most recognizable feature of Bastogne is its central square, named after General McAuliffe, whose likeness stands in a corner of the square facing the direction of the German Wehrmacht advance, next to a Sherman tank still standing guard, freshly repainted. The statue and tank are directly in front of the modern tourism office, where tours can be arranged (including a popular WWII era Willys Jeep Tour) and assorted books, maps and guides of the area and Battle of the Bulge sites can be found.

Bastogne War Museum

Mardasson WWII Monument photoThere are WWII battle sites and museums all through-out the Ardennes forest area of Belgium (see Battle of the Bulge Museums). Bastogne has several places to visit and some of the largest of the monuments. The Mardasson Memorial, a ring of columns in the shape of a five pointed star, stands as a stark memorial to the 76,890 American Soldiers killed, wounded or missing the Battle of the Bulge, lies about a mile out of town. Musee du Pays Ardenns_photoNext to the monument is the Bastogne Historical Center, a war museum with a large collection of mostly uniforms, some weapons and diaramas. In the center of Bastogne, a half block from the town square on the Rue de Neufchateau is the original museum of the Pays d’Ardennes in a three story store front next to the model store. Here, as well asWar Goods Bastogne photo being a musuem, you can purchase actual war souvenirs, items still found occasionally in the woods of the Ardennes. You can follow General Patton’s advance to Bastogne along the La Voie du Liberte (Freedom Road), the route the 3rd Army tanks took from Sainte Mere Eglise to Bastogne, marked with colorful kilometer markers. A monument of the likeness of General Patton is carved in stone in a park along the route, though the general himself is buried in Luxembourg (see General Patton Gravesite Hamm).

Surrounding Bastogne

Voie du Liberte marker photoBastogne is not all war. The Animalaine is a museum of wool and farm trades, located just beyond the Mardasson monument in the direction of the Foy battlefield. Continue farther to the German soldier cemetary (see German Soldaten Graves Bastogne), and the buffalo farm and American Indian life museum of Ferme des Bisons in Recogne. In April, the Liege to Bastogne and back cycle race runs through town, and in June every other year the Circuit des Ardennes vintage car run left over from the road race which became the Belgian Grand Prix (see Spa-Francorchamps Race Museum). In February, Carnival brings out the Giants of Bastogne and the curious masks of Piche Cacaye, traditional Belgian characters of the Bastogne region.

Best Western Hotel Bastogne photoThe rail station for Bastogne is a bus ride from the town center. With a car its easier to visit other areas and sight in the surrounding towns of the Ardennes. The city itself doesn't have much old picturesque architecture left, but can be a base for exploring the surrounding countryside with visits to historic La-Roche-en-Ardennes with its castle ruin, St. Hubert (see Saint Hubert) and Libramont. The very pleasant Best Western Hotel Melba is just a block off of the main square on the Avenue Mathieu near bus service and the old rail station. © Bargain Travel Europe

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