When we were in Normandy for the Band of Brothers actors’ reunion last year, we got chatting to Chris Langlois, who is the grandson of Eugene ‘Doc’ Roe, and we told him about our plans to take this trip. He mentioned a tour guide in Belgium called Reg Jans, who does WWII history tours around the Bastogne area, and said that nobody knew more about Easy Company’s part in the Battle of the Bulge than he did. So a tour with Reg was actually the first part of the holiday that we booked, the rest of the trip was planned around it.
We met at the Mardasson Memorial in Bastogne, which is next to the Bastogne War Museum. Reg took us to the aid station first, in the seminary school in Bastogne. This is the aid station which appears in Band of Brothers the TV show, although in reality the nurse Renee Lamaire wasn’t based at this station. Reg also told us about a Congolese nurse, Augusta Chiwy, who was based in Bastogne and who is alluded to in the series. I would really like to find out more about both Renee and Augusta.
We drove out to Halte Station, where there is a 101st memorial, paid for by various people including Tom Hanks. It’s very similar in design to the memorial at Brecourt Manor in Normandy, but there are some inaccuracies on the inscription, for instance Eugene Jackson was killed in Haguenau, yet his name appears on this memorial.
As we entered the Bois Jacques, Reg showed us where the patrol led by Johnny Martin had started out, and the area where John Julian was tragically killed.
Reg showed us where Major Winters had pointed out to him that he’d positioned the Battalion CP, there is still a horseshoe-shaped configuration of trenches visible in the grass. The CP would normally have been a lot further back from the front line, but it’s typical of the kind of commander Winters was that he chose to make it so close. We walked into the woods and Reg showed us the area where Guarnere and Toye were wounded, then we went deeper, right up to the front lines, which overlooked a road. The other side of the road was where the front of the German lines were, and I was amazed by how close it was, it was shown as being much further away in the TV series.
There were still some foxholes visible, and Reg thinks he is able to pinpoint which foxhole belonged to Smokey Gordon, as he was a machine gunner, and the machine gun trench was always a T-shape.
An unofficial memorial has sprung up in the woods with sticks, crosses, candles and other objects which people have left. I found the woods very atmospheric, and it was quite easy to imagine it covered with snow in the winter of 1944-45.
After we grabbed lunch, we drove to Foy, where Reg explained the assault on Foy, which was much longer and more complex than it is depicted in the TV series. We saw the building (below) from behind which Captain Speirs set off on his daring run across town to meet up with another company and exchange information on their positions to prevent friendly fire.
We also saw the window where the German sniper was positioned, and the place Shifty Powers was standing when he took him out. The sniper was in the top window in the photo below.
Above is the shot Shifty made, with the window just visible over the horizontal roof. Shifty really was one hell of a shot!
We moved on to Noville, where Lipton, Alley and Shames narrowly escaped being blown up by a tank, then on to Rachamps, which is a pretty little place with a nice church. There’s a tree which was planted near the church by Babe Heffron and Bill Guarnere
This is also the location of the ‘convent’, actually a school, where Easy spent their first night indoors after moving out of the woods.
The tour with Reg was excellent, he was so knowledgable and interesting, and I’d be willing to bet money on there being nothing about the military history of Bastogne that he doesn’t know. He really brought all the locations alive for us.
The following day we were back in Bastogne to visit the Bastogne War Museum and climb the Mardasson Memorial.
Bastogne War Museum is very interesting, and they have some great exhibits, including some of General Patton’s stars from his helmet. The museum gives a lot of information about the Battle of the Bulge, plus background information on WWII in general, and it always terrifies me that the lead up to the war has a lot of similarities with today’s politics – financial problems being blamed on minorities, the rise of far right politics, etc. It saddens and frustrates me that people just don’t seem to learn.
Outside the museum is the final beacon on the Liberty Road, which stretches all the way from Normandy. I’ve now visited the first and the last beacons.
We drove all the way to the American Cemetery in Luxembourg in the rain, only to find it was closed, which was bad planning on my part, but the only itinerary fail we had throughout the whole trip. We returned the following morning, in glorious sunshine. There are five Easy Company soldiers buried here: Patrick Neill, Kenneth Webb, John Julian, Warren ‘Skip’ Muck, and Alex Penkala.
We visited all the graves and left poppy crosses for Muck and Penkala. I was kind of sad they weren’t buried closer together.
General Patton is also buried here.
As always, the cemetery was immaculately maintained. It’s so sad to see all the thousands of gravestones, but I like visiting these places to pay my respects and keep the men’s memories alive, and I’ve always had a weird thing about liking graveyards ever since I was a toddler. I’m a bit of a war graves nerd since I started volunteering for The War Graves Photographic Project, and I like to see war graves being preserved and maintained.
One of the relatives of Warren ‘Skip’ Muck actually saw Jo’s post on Facebook about visiting the cemetery, and sent her a message to say how much it meant to them that people went there. I wish I could have placed a poppy on every single grave.
After the cemetery, we got in the car and travelled to the next destination on our trip – Germany.