Seventy years ago the Battle of the Bulge began when the Germans attacked American forces near Bastogne in Belgium. By December 22nd the Germans had the American forces in Bastogne completely surrounded and were calling on the Americans to surrender. General McAuliffe made history with his one word response – “Nuts!”. Four days later, General Patton’s forces arrived and broke the deadlock.
We paid a brief, but memorable, visit to Bastogne on Easter Saturday 1987. It was the last stop on a week-long trip to Holland. We were driving through Belgium on our way back to Mannheim (Germany) and found ourselves in Bastogne at dinner time. It was dark when we arrived so the only memory of the town I have is an American tank sitting in the square across from the restaurant where we had dinner. Our Camaro – parked in front of the restaurant – easily identified us as Americans even before we said a word. We spoke no French and no one in the little restaurant spoke English, German or Spanish yet we enjoyed one of the best meals of our trip. I’m still not sure what I ate that night, but it was delicious and the hospitality was delightful.
During our tour in Germany, we knew we were targets for a growing number of extremist groups because we represented America. Yes, we dealt with demonstrations, bomb threats and other security concerns. We also enjoyed the gratitude earned by our fathers’ hard-fought efforts from people in countries like Belgium and Holland who still remember what those Americans did to secure their liberty.
We will watch the Battle of the Bulge tonight and remember once again how massive that battle was. We will also honor the men who fought there. And we’ll wonder at the peaceful beauty we saw during our drive across those Belgium battlefields decades later – including that short but memorable stop at Bastogne.