On July 4 2016 we arrived in Bastogne to see the places that my Dad was in combat during the Battle of the Bulge. Our first stop was McAuliffe Square to see the Sherman Tank that belonged to the 11th Armored Division and was stopped at Renuamont on December 30, 1944 when German soldiers captured its crew. The tank survived the war and was later renovated for placement as a monument at McAuliffe Square.
Our big tour began the next day when we toured the Bastogne War Museum and Mardasson Memorial that remembers the 76,890 American soldiers killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of the Bulge. Then we met Belgian historian Roger Marquet and his wife Monique who took us on a tour of the small villages and forests to the west of Bastogne where Dad’s first day of combat began on Dec. 31, 1944 at Margarotte. Roger Marquet met Dad at an 11th Armored Division Association convention some years ago and kept in touch by email over the years. I had contacted Roger Marquet with some research questions during our 2011 Veterans tour of Germany, Czech Republic and Austria although we did not visit Belgium on that tour. I wrote to Roger Marquet again in 2016 as we prepared for our trip and he and Monique kindly drove us to the exact places where Dad’s 11th Armored Division 55th Armored Infantry Battalion Company C had been in combat in 1944-1945.
It was a remarkable day and a very moving experience to see these places and hear Roger Marquet’s stories of Dad’s battalion that mirrored some of Dad’s stories and provided greater detail to the stories I had heard from Dad over the years. We literally walked in Dad’s footsteps as we stopped at the village of Margarotte and then walked the road where the half tracks had stopped in December 1944 in order for Company C to begin their siege position to advance across the fields and into the woods called Bois De Magery and beyond towards Acul another very small village where the combat was fierce. Many of Dad’s friends from Army training at Camp Cooke died on the first day of combat. We brought their photos with us to place at their graves with American flags when we visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery a few days later. A plaque commemorating the sacrifice of the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion was placed in the village of Tillet, Belgium. From Tillet we drove to the Bois Jacques of Band of Brothers fame and saw the fox holes dug by the 101st Airborne’s Easy Company when they held the woods in January 1945 and only about a mile from where Dad’s company was located on January 14, 1945, the coldest night of the war as described by Sgt Don Malarkey in his book “Easy Company Soldier” on page 191. Sixty five years later on January 25, 2010 while Dad was recovering from heart surgery at Portland’s Providence Hospital I met Don Malarkey at McMemamins Kennedy School History Pub and he autographed his book with a “Hi Rog” that I took back to the hospital for Dad to read.
The visit to Bastogne and the 11th Armored Division combat trail from Margarotte to Acul and Tillet and many other places continued as we drove through the Ardennes and to the German border where Dad carried a flame-thrower through the Siegfried Line and into the next stage of the war which was to end months later for the 11th Armored Division in Austria. In 2011 we toured the final path of that historic battle trail that culminated with the annual memorial ceremonies at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. On this trip however we circled back from the German border areas to Luxembourg to visit the Luxembourg American Cemetery.