I live smack dab in the middle of history. As I move along in my adventures, the clarity of how generations of people have fought, have struggled, have searched materializes. I never truly sensed the reality of “war” and the inherent struggle towards goodness as I do living in Europe.
This weekend commemorates the 68th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. WW2 was the largest war in modern human history, and often it feels like no part of Europe was left untouched by its reach. More than 100 million military personell encountered action during WW2, and they spent more time in atrocious physical and psychological conditions than ever before.
Now, I am in love with Volksmarching, so pairing a 21K walk in Belgium with remembering this battle was exciting for me. During the 4 hour walk, we observed military enactments, as well as experienced a little sliver of Belgium winter conditions: wind, coldness (although it was a tame 39 degrees) rain, and MUD. Lots and lots of mud.
By this time in the war, the Allies had huge successes over the summer of 1945 (think D Day) and had moved into the thick of German territory. So the Germans went on the offensive, attempting to split the Allies into two and get into a good position for negotiations. Hitler may have surprised the Allies, but in the area around Bastogne, they battled over a 6 week period, gaining ground despite very cold conditions. Many causalities occurred (a lot due to frostbite or freezing to death), estimated to be almost 100K for both Americans and Germans.
The Allies won out, thus naming the battle “Bulge” because instead of breaking it in two, Germans only created a small dent, and their loss added further to a sense of defeat, loss of power and eventual demise.
This was NOT a pleasant walk. In fact, although the company was great, it was my least favorite walk of the season. I can’t imagine what 6 weeks (and even ONE NIGHT) in those woods must have felt like.
But again, I am reminded how safe and secure my life is. And how we seek a noble purpose. What do we stand for? Where will we walk?
Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.
George S. Patton