Bastogne, Belgium — Tracing the Battle of the Bulge

posted by Sharon March 3, 2019 36 Comments
Bastogne Belgium

Bastogne, a small town in southern Belgium, sits in rolling farmland, with stands of the Ardennes forest just outside of town. On our visit, colorful umbrellas decorated the main street.Bastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumIt likely would have remained unknown to the world, but Bastogne suffered the misfortune of being caught in the Battle of the Bulge, one of the largest land battles of World War II. When you visit this lovely Belgian area, you can trace what took place here 75 years ago next winter. Bastogne BelgiumYou may wonder why Bastogne was the site of a pivotal battle of this last offensive of the German forces. After all, just a few months earlier Bastogne was liberated by the Allies and the residents settled in for a time of calm as the war wound down. Then, in mid-December, the Germans struck. Their goal was the port of Antwerp, and they bypassed Bastogne, forging ahead to create the “bulge.” Still, the Germans needed this town. Bastogne lies at the center of 7 roads, and these were crucial for moving troops and supplies. One by one, the roads fell to German control. By December 21, the American troops in Bastogne were completely surrounded.

To learn just what happened in Bastogne during those harrowing days, we lined up a tour with Reg Jans. He’s a local guide whose grandfather fought in World War II. Delving into his grandfather’s life, Reg realized “that freedom does not come for free and historical knowledge should be preserved and passed on.” He is constantly researching the history of this area in WWII. He is the perfect guide for a day-long tour of Bastogne. Bastogne BelgiumWe started in the town, on the street where the 101st Airborne troops marched in on December 16. These are the men of the Band of Brothers series fame. This excellent 10-part video follows the path of Easy Company of the 101st, including their time in the trenches in Bastogne. Bastogne BelgiumSoon we were traveling down roads that were centuries old, through the farmland, in Reg’s Battle Bus van. Bastogne BelgiumRight away, we learned that the lay of the land has changed, due to this area actually farming trees. Forest area during the battle is grassland today, and new forests are planted. Our guide has hosted veterans and family members of the 101st, and he has figured out where the action took place. Bastogne BelgiumThe heart of our tour was in the Bois Jacques, the woods where Easy Company dug in and held off the Germans despite lack of winter clothes, food, ammunition, and medical supplies. Some of the trenches exist today, and you can pay respects to these men on this hallowed ground. Bastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumA bonus on our tour was meeting one of the actors from Band of Brothers, James Madio, who plays soldier Frank Perconte. He met with the veterans when preparing for his role, and we talked with him about Perconte. He was known for his cleanliness, even in the trenches. So in the series, Madio decided to brush his teeth in one scene, knowing this would portray Perconte well. Bastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumAs the Allies shivered in their foxholes in December 1944, the Germans sent 2 men into town to see the commander, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, and present a demand to surrender. The Allies were cut off from all aid so it was time to give up, right? McAuliffe’s famous reply was “Nuts!” The Germans, probably baffled, returned to their lines. A few days later, Patton rolled down one of the roads with his tanks and that was the beginning of the end of the siege of Bastogne. Here’s the farmhouse where that meeting took place. Bastogne BelgiumWe moved on to the nearby town of Foy, where Easy Company fought after Patton broke through with his tanks to free Bastogne. This sleepy country town looks much the same today as it did in 1944. The building where a sniper shot from a high window still stands, bullet holes and all. Bastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumMemorials to the men who held Bastogne can be found on the fields and in town. Because we must never forget the price paid by the soldiers on both sides, as well as the civilians of this small crossroads who were drawn into the battle. Bastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumThe main square is now known as McAuliffe square, and we ate lunch in the Café named “Nuts.” They serve a bowl of peanuts with each meal. Bastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumBastogne BelgiumThat evening, we went to dinner in the Italian restaurant on the corner of the main square. This was the childhood home of nurse Renee Lamaire, “Angel of Bastogne,” who was killed in the bombing on Christmas Eve, 1944. The echoes of the past are everywhere, and by remembering, we keep alive those lost too soon. Bastogne BelgiumIf you go, I recommend staying at the Hotel Melba, just a 5-minute walk from the main square, with this lovely front patio. Bastogne Belgium

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36 Comments

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Tamar Strauss-Benjamin March 4, 2019 at 3:52 am

Those umbrellas are awesome!!

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// Heidrun March 4, 2019 at 7:18 am

Belgium is one of top of my travel list… reading about is very interesting. And I always think on the songs of the Chansonnier Jacques Brel!

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Photo Cache March 4, 2019 at 11:30 am

I like the umbrellas too, how awesome. What an educational trip this was. Beautiful countryside and wooded areas.

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Joyful March 4, 2019 at 11:34 am

An interesting and beautiful post. I enjoyed all your photos and the one of the umbrellas was very cute. Like Heidrun Belgium is a place I hope to visit one day.

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Fun 60 March 4, 2019 at 11:37 am

I had heard of the Battle of the Bulge but was unaware of the details.The town has done a good job of keeping the history alive. Liked the umbrellas as well.

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Colleen@ LOOSELEAFNOTES March 4, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Oh, my. So many umbrellas. The umbrella business must be doing well cause I’ve seen pictures of these displays all over. Love the old paint too.

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Alan March 4, 2019 at 12:29 pm

Wow, that is amazing. Thank you for this post of this famous town.

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Jim, Sydney, Australia March 4, 2019 at 1:38 pm

The umbrellas look amazing.

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William Kendall March 4, 2019 at 2:13 pm

I was already quite familiar with the story, but it’s fascinating to see the setting as it is today.

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Lady Fi March 4, 2019 at 9:26 pm

Wonderful shots – especially the umbrellas.

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Lisa | Handmade in Israel March 6, 2019 at 7:09 am

What a sad yet interesting post. You really learnt so much on your tour. I love the umbrellas. We had the same installation in Jerusalem a few years ago.

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Gattina March 6, 2019 at 8:26 am

Although I live in Waterloo I have never been to Bastogne. Your pictures are very nice !

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pienilintu March 6, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Love those umbrellas!

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Kelly Anne Rothaermel March 6, 2019 at 4:19 pm

I had a couple of relatives that fought in the wwI

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betty - NZ March 6, 2019 at 4:53 pm

This is my favorite way to learn a bit of history! Thanks for sharing!

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betty - NZ March 7, 2019 at 3:49 pm

Thank you for linking up to My Corner of the World!

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Carol March 7, 2019 at 5:47 am

Good day Sharon! Another fascinating trip with so much information. I feel like I was there.

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Esther March 7, 2019 at 10:20 pm

OMG what an amazing trip. Band of brothers is an amazing series, how special to meet one of the actors!! I don’t live too far from the Ardennes, I should give a tour like this a go!!
#feetdotravel

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Garth March 8, 2019 at 1:50 am

Not been to Belgium yet, looks like you had a fascinating and educational trip, love learning about history, but all those bullet holes, what a terrible price soldiers pay. #feetdotravel

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California Globetrotter March 8, 2019 at 2:18 am

I would find a tour like this quite intriguing! I’m a big WWII nerd and to see it and feel even a fraction of what those men went through and pay tribute to them by learning from the past is the ultimate thanks. #FeetDoTravel

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Molly March 8, 2019 at 6:09 am

The umbrellas are awesome

Mollyx

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Jenn | By Land and Sea March 9, 2019 at 5:41 am

I just love it when umbrellas line streets! What a cool place!

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Anna March 9, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Was so interesting to read more about Bastogne and its history! I´ve only been to Brussels once would love to explore more of Belgium´s less known cities! #FeetdoTravel

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Milkytravel March 9, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Thank you for showing a different side of Belgium. Hadn’t known much about the country, except Brussels. The umbrellas remind me one of the streets in Prague 🙂

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Sarah March 9, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Belgium is high on my list to visit, but I never would have chosen Bastogne, so thank you for putting it on my list! Great shots too, beautiful colors.

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Roshni March 9, 2019 at 3:23 pm

I love how tall the trees are and how far that umbrella street was!! What a beautiful place

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Tanza Erlambang March 9, 2019 at 4:14 pm

love the story with beautiful views.
have a great day

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Linda (LD Holland) March 9, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Belgium is one of the places we have yet to visit. But I would love to see a whole street decorated with umbrellas. I knew nothing about the Battle of the Bulge. But do understand why a town like Bastogne with 7 roads in the centre would be a strategic spot to capture. So great that you could learn more about it on your visit.

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Shauna March 10, 2019 at 3:20 am

Great post. As others have commented, I love the picture of the umbrellas! Also wandering in the woods, it would be impossible to know the truth of the horrors experienced there not so long ago. Thanks for sharing!

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Lisa March 10, 2019 at 8:42 am

This is such an interesting post, and I got shivers just reading it. Bastogne certainly has a lot of history, and it’s scary to think it wasn’t that long ago. I haven’t explored enough of Belgium, I hope to do so one day soon.

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Heather March 10, 2019 at 7:44 pm

What a lovely place! Belgium is so beautiful I loved it! I only visited the main cities but this looks like somewhere I would have enjoyed as much! The umbrellas are amazing!!

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Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles) March 11, 2019 at 6:43 am

What a fascinating tour, Sharon. I really enjoyed Band of Brothers and would find it so interesting visiting Bastogne.I imagine it was quite emotional visiting here too. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

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dee Nambiar March 12, 2019 at 10:39 am

I’m sure the street with the umbrellas and the beautiful woods balanced all that history. Lovely pictures. The woods are so inviting. 🙂

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KB March 12, 2019 at 8:15 pm

The umbrellas are stunning

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Emese March 13, 2019 at 9:28 am

Love your history tours, Sharon! There is just so much more you get from a place when you learn about its history… and your stunning photos help illustrate your tour. Great post, thanks for sharing 🙂

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Rhonda Albom March 14, 2019 at 6:20 pm

I’ve heard the “Battle of the Bulge” phrase often but never knew the history behind it. Thanks for the background. It looks like Reg Jans was a great guide.

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