Touring with a Band of Brothers
Ted Moon's Journal
Entry 6 - Breaking Out
Hello all and hope you're all having a great Memorial Day weekend! I know I am missing the college lacrosse tournament and as I write, a new champion is being crowned. Looking forward to watching the tapes when I get home.
We are here back in France for the night. Since Belgium and the first day of the Battle of the Bulge stops, we went back to Bastogne on Sunday: We walked into the woods that is the Bois Jacques and saw the foxholes overlooking the village of Foy that Easy dug while doing their part in the 101st Airborne's heroic defense of Bastogne. Amazing that the foxholes are still there after 59 years. some were deeper than others and one can see the close proximity they are to the German positions across only about 75 yards. Only dense fog could prevent each other from doing even further damage to each other's ranks.
Paul and Earl were both able to point to about where their foxholes were in the right flank of Easy's positions. They actually lived in this stuff for about one month from mid-December to early January and back as shown in the miniseries - imagine that the next time you think a hotel doesn't have a comfortable bed or the water isn't hot enough!
After the weather broke just before Christmas and the 101st were resupplied, they emerged from their holes to launch their attack on Foy, a battle shown in episode 7 of the miniseries. Lt. Norman Dike; the incompetent leader led Easy until the attack stalled due to his indecision. We walked the roughly 300 yards of open field they ran through although the haystacks are no longer there. this is when Lt. Ronald Spiers gets sent by now battalion commander Capt. Winters to relieve Dike and continue the attack, thereby assuming command of Easy. by the way, the stories about Spiers shooting one of his own men and the German POWs in Normandy are true - he was Captain Fury after seeing what the Germans had done to troopers caught in trees on D-Day.
Here, as before, Paul and Earl sometimes have different memories of the details and actually have to defer to our guides Chris and Jake who go from official action reports. Paul did share how after the capture he chased an escaping German and shot him from about 200 yards, impressing one of the new guys that had just joined the unit.
After Foy, we traced the path of Easy as they captured neighboring villages of Noville, a key highground overlooking the entire Bois Jacques, and Rachamps where they rested for the night and got to sleep indoors for the first time in about a month at a church dating back to the 11th century. Like in the miniseries, we were treated to a little concert, but not by the girls' choir like 59 years ago but by the local organist. He played the Star Spangled Banner and as I looked at Paul, Earl, and Jack as it played, I could not but feel a tremendous honor that I was sharing this moment with them.
We made two different stops at German cemetries yesterday. Compared to the bright white crosses and Star of Davids that is beautifully maintained by your tax dollars, the Germans have up to six names on each stone, which is very simple and in dark gray stones. Very German in its appearance and definitely not the sense of pride that the American graves invoke. There is also a mass grave with about 5000 identified Germans. I can't imagine the US doing that with its soldiers. We met some German tourists who were there and paid their respects with some type of religious song that I don't know but the guides guessed. Their bus was a doubledecker complete with a wait staff and kegs! But no, Jack did not storm the bus.
Speaking of Jack, perhaps the most profound quote from any WWII veteran I have ever heard was spoken by him at the German cemetry regarding the Battle of the Bulge: "all these boys here (German graves) and all those boys back in there (another US cemetry we visited that afternoon) would not be here if the 106th division didn't turn and run in the first day." The 106th infantry division was a fresh from the US unit that was put into the front line and the Germans smashed the entire division on their way to starting the epic battle. Many units within the 106th surrendered in wholesale numbers and did not put up anything of a fight. Still, it is the first time I have heard a veteran say something that strong about a fellow unit.
Finally, it was the funny stop was when Paul wanted to stop at a field where several US veterans had planted trees 10 years ago. Paul was saying how it must be of certain size by now. Upon getting there, we saw that it was easily the smallest among the 200 or so there. Turns out it was another practical joke - Jim "Moe" Alley had his son come here a few years ago and switched name plates. What was funny was Earl's reaction - he just about fell to the ground from laughing so hard and so far, he has been relentless in kidding Paul about it ever since. I guess it's getting even after so far during the trip, Paul continuing to give Earl orders like he did as Earl's squad leader 59 years ago. whenever we are not sure of a direction or anything, Paul has frequently said, "McClung, go check it out!"
Last night we spent in tiny but beautiful Luxembourg in a hotel that used to be General Omar Bradley's headquarters. After dinner, I strolled around town on my own while the rest of the crew was either drinking at the hotel bar or sleeping. It has got to be the most beautiful city I have ever seen with its castles and cathedrals and one natural gulch which is huge. there was a street fair going on and I wandered around - same bad food, junky things to buy, and tons of people - it could have been Reston, VA - a street fair is a street fair!
Today, we mainly traveled - sometimes covering three countries over one afternoon since Belgium, Luxembourg, and France are all next to each other. We stopped at Simerhofer, a part of France's Maginot Line that was designed to prevent more Great War type of attacks. However; Hitler simply ran right around it with his mobile mechanized units and the Maginot Line is like many other things involving the French military - a big joke! However, I have to give them credit because the exhibit is neat - we took a little trolley looking like the boat from Willi Wonka and the Chocolate Factory into this elaborate fortified tunnel and the audio did not hide the fact that it was a gigantic failure - at least they are honest. France is the worst home underdog this side of the Cincinnati Bengals.
After lunch, we went to Hagenau, where as depicted in episode 8 of the miniseries, they sent over a 15 man patrol to snatch POWs to interrogate. Earl participated in this and this is the only episode in which Earl is portrayed. it was very cool watching this on the busride there, only a few seats down from a guy that has a prominent role in the episode. He then led us back to the exact place in town where the attack took place. The river is much smaller than shown in the movie and he did say there was some Hollywood on how the attack unfolded but for the most part got it right.
I told him that I was appalled at the miovie because he is much better looking than the actor who portrayed him (a British actor - not sure of the name). He talked about how there was a gullible production assistant for HBO who thought Earl really only had one lung because of his nickname, "One Lung".
Speaking of nicknames, I have given some people here some B of B nicknames, like Webster to the guy who always scribbles in his diary, "Muck" and "Penkala" to the two older guys who are attached at the hip and "Winters" to our Army major who is ever so serious all the time.
Well, it is off to Germany tomorrow and a travel day with a brief stop at Dachau. We will be in Bad Reichenhall the rest of the trip and I am thankful for not having to pack each night.
Hope all is well,
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