Touring with a Band of Brothers
Ted Moon's Journal
Entry 5 - The Bulge
Hello all and greetings from Belgium, I think...
We are here in a small village of Marche en Femme and we debated at dinner tonight which country this is in - they all kind of blend together here. We are staying at a glorified bed and breakfast that used to be a Jesuit seminary. and I thought I was done with Jesuit buildings when I graduated from high school.
Anyway, tracing the path of the 101st Airborne, after Market Garden and being stuck on The Island for 72 days, the 101st, as well as the 82nd were pulled back to Mourmelon, France to rest and be refitted. However, Hitler launched what turned out to be his last major offensive when he attacked the Ardennes forest through thinly spread American lines to begin what became the Battle of the Bulge. Yes, it was an actual battle before the diet plans started using the term.
Eisenhower took his only reserve divisions, turns out to be his two best, to help defend key strategic crossroad villages. The 101st were loaded onto trucks like the ones we rode yesterday and sent to defend Bastogne in eastern Belgium. They drove all night in trucks driven by the Red Ball Express consisting solely of African American soldiers who drove tirelessly into the night in a desperate attempt to get the Screaming Eagles to Bastogne.
Bastogne has 7 roads leading in and 7 roads leading out, thus being a key objective for the fast advancing German mechanized units. The entire 101st were surrounded by December 19 and was ordered by the Germans to surrender. Acting division commander General Anthony McAulliffe responded with a simple but now immortal answer, "Nuts!" We visited the museum as well as the hq for the 101st.
This morning, we visited the Margraten Cemetry before leaving Holland, my favorite European country. There, like at Omaha, we placed flowers where Easy members are buried. Today, I got to do one of the honors - for Lt. Raymond Schmitz of Illinois. I don't know much about him other than what Earl told me at dinner - he was his platoon leader and his favorite through the war. One time in England, Earl wanted to fight some officers and Schmitz wanted to fight some enlisted men so they switched uniforms and went to the respective clubs and fought.
At the museum, I found a US paratrooper action figure and sure enough, he had a Mohawk and war paint (like Jack and his Filthy Thirteen) and I bought one so I can get Jack to sign it for me. Jack, who has received hugs from just about every adoring female fan along the way, said that he can now get twice the hugs. He was again very quiet when we were at the cemetry - a couple of his friends should have been here but they could not find their bodies, or as he puts it, enough of their bodies.
Jack is also one of the very few troopers in the entire Army to have made three combat jumps during the war - the extra one other than Normandy and Holland being one in which he and his Pathfinders jumped into Bastogne on December 23 to help bring desparately needed supplies to the city under seige. He was back in France receiving additional training when the Bulge broke out so he was not one of those trucked in.
Earl once again told me some funny stories about when they were in Mourmelon resting. They once dressed up Walter "Black Jack" Hendrix like a woman ("prettiest damn woman I ever saw") so that Hendrix could distract the cooks in the kitchen while he and Jim "Moe" Alley and Shifty Powers could go in the back and steal food.
Paul also had some good ones but I'll have to tell you later because it is about taking care of your normal daily functions, in the field or in the woods and shooting starting at shall I say, inconvenient times.
Last night, I went to check out the Friday nightlife in Eindhoven with some of the other guys. These geeks wanted to just talk more war stuff so I went over by myself and made some new Dutch friends. Big NFL football fans and very fun to talk to, it was really happening last night but I paid for it today on the bus as I tried to catch up on sleep.
There are two types of people on this trip - the ultra serious war history geeks and the ones who have an interest in history and the 101st but also realize that this also is a European vacation. Neil and Walter and I went and had a nice lunch today in Bastogne instead of looking at more tanks (oh, and since we have been going to all these museums where they have displays of different uniforms and weapons, I have seen more mannequins than a Macy's merchandising trainee).
The serious history geeks love to talk all day about this stuff and also love to point out all the mistakes in the movie, real nitpicking, but amusing to listen to. If the veterans are old men with young souls, these guys are younger men with old souls. So, I'm hanging out more with the more balanced crowd, except when I need more information. But overall, it is a really great group and most everyone gets along well. There is, however, one guy who plays the role of "ugly American" everywhere we go and he's getting to be embarassing. Fat guy, lots of money so he needs to buy everything, treats the service like slaves, and he's young, which is more surprising.
Anyway, tomorrow he head back to the woods where Easy dug in and defended the woods by the city of Foy and where Jack jumped into and then head to Luxembourg on our way to Austria.
Hope all is well and please remember the fallen soldiers on Memorial Day... guys like Terrence "Salty" Harris, John "Peanut" Hale, Lt. Thomas Meehan, and Lt. Raymond Schmitz.
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