Bastogne

Seventy years ago the Battle of the Bulge began when the Germans attacked American forces near Bastogne in Belgium. By December 22nd the Germans had the American forces in Bastogne completely surrounded and were calling on the Americans to surrender. General McAuliffe made history with his one word response – “Nuts!”. Four days later, General Patton’s forces arrived and broke the deadlock.

Bastogne, Belgium

Sherman tank memorial on the square in Bastogne, Belgium. Photo courtesy of fisherbray, on Flickr.

We paid a brief, but memorable, visit to Bastogne on Easter Saturday 1987. It was the last stop on a week-long trip to Holland. We were driving through Belgium on our way back to Mannheim (Germany) and found ourselves in Bastogne at dinner time. It was dark when we arrived so the only memory of the town I have is an American tank sitting in the square across from the restaurant where we had dinner. Our Camaro – parked in front of the restaurant – easily identified us as Americans even before we said a word. We spoke no French and no one in the little restaurant spoke English, German or Spanish yet we enjoyed one of the best meals of our trip. I’m still not sure what I ate that night, but it was delicious and the hospitality was delightful.

During our tour in Germany, we knew we were targets for a growing number of extremist groups because we represented America. Yes, we dealt with demonstrations, bomb threats and other security concerns. We also enjoyed the gratitude earned by our fathers’ hard-fought efforts from people in countries like Belgium and Holland who still remember what those Americans did to secure their liberty.

Ardennes American Cemetery.

The Ardennes American Cemetery. Photo courtesy Kaitlin Yapchaian via Flickr.

We will watch the Battle of the Bulge tonight and remember once again how massive that battle was. We will also honor the men who fought there. And we’ll wonder at the peaceful beauty we saw during our drive across those Belgium battlefields decades later – including that short but memorable stop at Bastogne.

Windswept Cedars

windswept cedars at Lighthouse park

Windswept cedars at Lighthouse Park

These cedars stand at the water’s edge between the boat ramp and the fishing pier at Lighthouse Park. This small park, tucked into the neighborhood surrounding the St. Augustine Lighthouse has been a favorite playground as long as I can remember. It was an easy bike ride from our house and we spent many hours here fishing and playing tennis.

Dolph’s Letters – June 1909

Dolph Barker

Dolph Barker

Wednesday Evening
June 30th ’09

My Dear Lois:-

As it has almost grown to be a habit for me to write you on Wednes. night, I will endeavor to ans. your most appreciated letter I received yesterday.

There is nothing I enjoy more than reading your letters. They kindly remind me of by gone days when we had better opportunities to converse than we have now but I will try and content myself by writing and looking to the future, hoping that I may some day (and that in the near fut.) have another opportunity of seeing you and fulfilling that pledge that we made on that fatal Sunday night. I did hate to leave you that night for I knew that it would be a long time before I would see you again. It was not mysterious to me why the hat was left in the buggy. Was it for you? I haven’t been at the pond since. It has no attractions for me now. I suppose though that it is still there judging from the direction the new quartet drives out every Sunday afternoon. Wish that it was so that we could accompany them but at present, Fate seems to be against us. But I have one consolation. Aug. will soon be here and I will soon know whether you are game to back up your pledges or not.

Please don’t think for one minute that I am doubting you in the least, but sometimes great things that are not expected happen in less than 30 days. Still I hope that we will be fortunate enough not to let anything come between us to cause either of us to think of breaking our vows. I know that I will not, and I have confidence enough to believe the same of you.

I don’t know what time I can get away from here now. Expect it will be about the 15th of Aug. Will let you know in plenty of time to meet me at Nashville. I intend to go from there out West. That is if I don’t get broke and if I do you need not look for me until I get a position. I am going to buy peaches and I am liable to make and I am liable to lose. I think I have sold out. Will know this week. Daisy will keep you posted in regard to my financial condition.

I have promised to take her out dining Sun. P.M. and I am going to try to entertain her so that it will be a day long remembered. She seems to be very anxious to know whether you are going to make application for this school for another year or not. I could tell her but I will not for I do not aim for you to teach school another year if I can prevent it. That is if you like house-keeping better.

You said something about writing you every Wednesday night. I will have to get mighty busy to fail but through shipping season I generally haft to go day and night and if I should fail you will know the reason.

I expect you will be visiting at Ashland at that time and it will be immaterial with you whether you get a letter or not. Let me know when you go and I will try and send you and Dick a crate of peaches.

I am very sorry that you will not get to see the Dr. play ball. Am satisfied you will enjoy the game immensely.

Everything is ready for the camping as soon as peaches are over. I am anticipating my last big times in Ga. on that trip. Hope I will not miss my anticipations. If you were only here I know I would not. We will not be gone more than a week. Will have some Chattanooga girles with us. I like Chatt–. Think I will make it my first home provided I can get you to consent but you dislike the Times so that I don’t know whether I could get you to live in the town.

You said that you would like to know what I told Gert that night. You must know what she ask me. She wanted to know if we were going to marry and I told her that we were. I would like to know what you know about that night in Apr. If anything happened to mar Newt’s happiness I do not know it. I think they will marry if no one interferes. They seem to be devoted to each other very much.

I hope you will make a grand success of your entertainment. Am satisfied you will have everything up to date. How is the old maid coming? I suppose this hot weather kindly frets her. You have said or done something that has caused her to suspision you. It may be that she has been noticing you Sat. letters coming so regular. We will call on her when she gets in La. Probably by that time her hair will be smoother.

I know my letters are very entertaining for you on Sundays for I know that it takes you most all day to read them and for fear you don’t get through with this one and haft to continue on Monday will close expecting to receive an ans. in Tues. mail.

Devotedly Yours
A.M.B.

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Remembering A Tragedy

I just received an email from NewspaperARCHIVE pointing me to the Stars and Stripes European edition for December 21, 1988. I couldn’t see which articles were included in the message, but the date sent a shiver up my spine. It was the day that Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland. Why do I know this? We were stationed in Germany at that time. People from our unit were on that flight – headed home for the holidays. It was a shock to people in the U.S. but it was very personal to every military family stationed in Europe at the time. We were well aware of the terrorist threat we faced daily, but most of our threats were from European groups. This was something very different – and very frightening.

We would leave Germany in 1989 – on the Fourth of July. There was a threat alert regarding a possible attempt to shoot down an American flight leaving Frankfurt on that day. Fortunately nothing happened to mar our trip home and we were delighted to celebrate at least part of that Independence Day in Charleston, South Carolina. Fireworks never looked so good!

Stars and Stripes wouldn’t report the tragedy until the next day’s edition, but to this day December 21st is a day of mourning to those of us who lost friends, co-workers and family flying home for the holidays.