Sunday, August 1, 2010

Diekirch, Luxembourg - National Military Museum & Bastogne, Belgium - Bastogne Historical Museum

After a night at the craziest campground in Europe.

This is an actual picture from their website. If this is how they advertise their campground restaurant you can imagine how full throttle this campground was...I only wish we could have spend a few more nights.

The next morning we drove down to the the city of Diekirch. The town is home to the National Museum of Military History, reflecting Diekirch's pivotal role in the Battle of the Bulge, a major battle of World War II. It was here that the river Sauer was crossed on the night of January 18, 1945, by the US 5th Infantry division.

This stop wasn't always on the itinerary, but it got great reviews from a book we had been following closely. The 25 Essential World War II Sites: European Theater: The Ultimate Traveler's Guide to Battlefields, Monuments, and Museums. The beauty of the RV trip is that you can divert at just about anytime. There are so many campgrounds, that a quick consult to our DVD directory, followed by a phone call, gets you set in a new direction. We also wanted to see Patton's grave site at the American cemetery. My grandfather served under Patton and a good friend of my Mom's is a Patton devotee (even naming his dog Patton). It came highly recommended. Unfortunately, we'd have to choose between the cemetery and the Bastogne museum. We'd been to the American cemetery in Normandy, its a very humbling experience. Sixty years later is so hard to imagine the scope of the American sacrifice. 406,000 Americans lost their lives to WWII. The number is 58,000 for Vietnam and 5,500 for the current war on terror (Iraq and Afghanistan). All those lives in WWII happened over just a 4 year span. The fact my family wasn't touched by death in the war is a miracle, given the my uncles and grandfather all served.

We find our way to the tiny town of Diekirch, winding our way through tiny mountain roads. A few laps round the town center and we locate the museum. Then we keep our eyes pealed for bus parking. Near the river we find a lot that will accommodate us, but we'll have to walk a few miles to get back to the museum. No mind, it was a beautiful little town. Once we arrive at the museum we learn of the Luxembourg Card....for 20 Euros for a family (all 5 of us) we can have access to this museum as well as Bastogne. Deal. Outside the museum are a few planes and tanks that Alex proceeds to grill me on the names.

Of course I'm clueless and he's incorrigible. His teenage boy mind can't believe his Mom could not have a detailed grasp of WWII vehicle names. A the sport of making fun of your Mom. It's universal. Inside they ask us if we need an audio guide. I don't think so, we brought or own. The kid is amazing. If it happened in WWII, was flown, driven or sailed in WWII, he knows about it.

It was Christmas morning for Alex Dorado.

This place looked like Alex's game room, covered with GIJoes, tanks and such, expept it was all life size. Inside this tiny museum were treasures he'd only seen in a books and videos. Literally, anything that was left over after the war was scooped up and put in this museum. Most museums have clear organized displays. This museum was organized, but it was crammed full like your grandmother's attic. One display box was nothing but medical supplies, another was nothing but food supplies. They had life size dioramas that displayed the weapons and uniforms in context. There was a large hall with 20+ vehicles, with uniformed dressed mannequins setting the mood. Alex spammed over 300 pictures in 2 hours. He's always Mr. Reserved, but he couldn't help smile here. It's not pretty, but it was detailed. Alex says this was his favorite stop.

After a few hours here, needed to press on to Bastogne, just up the road in Belgium, if we were going to get there in time to see the museum before it closed at 5PM. Unfortunately, this meant we'd have to skip the hunt for remaining foxholes. The book said a few were still in place, but the directions to find them left us skeptical, given we had to take the RV there.

The drive to Bastogne was relatively uneventful, we are getting good. The parking lot was large and parking was a breeze. NICE! As we make our way up to the museum, we see a small parade and see a reviewing stand near the monument across the way. We didn't know why, but just as we walked up to the entrance a band starts playing the Star Spangled Banner. We stopped, took off our hats and sang along. When you've been away from home for even just a few weeks, it's nice to hear. Especially when you are in a corner of Europe that still appreciates America. Outside the museum is a massive monument dedicated to America for liberating this area and winning the Battle of the Bulge. All the individual divisions are honored as well as every state.

Once inside, we learned a Belgian prince was visiting. I'm not sure what for, but we moved on. We only had an hour to see the museum. Turns out that was plenty. A beautifully curated museum, it told the story of the Bulge in words, pictures and objects. We were almost surrounded and down for the count. The German's asked for our surrender and our famous response was “Nuts”. Patton hauled butt from France and kept open the one clear lane to the area. We dug in, in horrible winter conditions and prevailed. This was the turning point in the war. Germans were pushed back from this point forward.

We lingered a few more minutes outside at the memorial and the smaller memorial to the 101st Airborne and then headed off to our next stop.

Liege, search of the elusive Liege Waffle!

1 comment:

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