Returning to England and Europe, especially some battlefields, I was told would be a benefit to me. After 50 years of time the changes would be so different that I would be able to relax and realize that all was well and essentially the consequence of war was gone. I spent time trying to reconcile this information and it made no sense to me. I concluded that if I did ever return the memories would forever be etched even deeper into my mind. The following is the truth of the matter:
Nora and I had fantasized over the years about taking a trip to England and Europe. Mostly it was so remote that to express thoughts about going were vaguely discussed. It was after 51 years that our opportunity arriveed. I suggested that we go in November and be free of tourists. Instead we would experience some of the things, including the weather, I still remembered.
Flying direct from Phoenix to London on British Airways was a dream and accomplished very quickly. Staying at Gatwick Airport area proved to be a good idea. Early in the morning we took the fast train to London and Victoria Station. It's true there were traces that I recognized although so much was crowded and changed. On the streets we found a two hour tour aboard a double deck bus and the adventure began. Teaming with people and traffic so heavy becomes beyond description. "Remembrance Day" was celebrated Sunday the day before we arrived in London. The parades were over, but the population continued to observe and remember on Monday and then on Tuesday the 11th of November. We observe Veteran's Day at home the same day as England does. Now from high above on the bus we could view the red wreaths that filled the area around the National Gallery. Two older ladies were next to us on top of the bus. They were involved each year in the activities honoring their veterans, and had served as "Wrens" during WWII. So pleasant to meet them and have them as tour guides. Leaving the bus and telling them how we enjoyed their company took on a new meaning as one of them became close enough to kiss my cheek and call me "Love".
Traveling north to Huddersfield seemed natural and we decided Nora would be "in charge" in England. I would "take charge" in Europe. Watching Nora walking a healthy pace up and down the streets and in and out of the shops caused me to be amazed. Viewing her at a distance, through the crowds, was made easy as her shimmering hair superseded any around her (more bounce to the ounce).
Some shops were indeed different. The fact that there were the absence of handrails could have become very exciting. One shop had double doors at the street level. Upon opening one of them I was completely surprised to immediately descend six or eight steps to a basement level. I'm grateful for so many of our building codes. An inside shopping mall contained many booths. They alternated between selling cheeses, meats, watches, clothes, fish, and everything imaginable. The odor affected Nora after a short time and we made our way quickly to the fresh air out of doors.
My mind had a hard time to reconcile British pounds compared to American dollars. Most things appeared to be cheaper at home.
Bus touring the area was accomplished and one day we visited nearby Elland. This town was very productive for Nora as she was able to discover her Grandparents birthplace and a lot of her family history. (This was the heart of the industrial revolution in England). In a local newspaper shop we met a lady very much like Nora's sister, Kathleen. She was easy to talk to and more than generous with pictures and information. A phone call was made and a middle aged man appeared to announce that he was the prominent historian in the area. He asked if we had a car for transportation. My answer was to strike a pose holding my thumb out. (No way did I intend to drive the wrong side of the road). Soon Brian invited us for a special tour and it was a real treat. Nora's questions were answered and I was able to take photos of the various mills, churches, homes and points of interest. I was so happy for Nora as she was able to experience more than expected. We will always look at Brian as a guiding Angel.
Because we continued to spend each night at Mallow House (bed and breakfast) we were assured of a nice clean place with a full breakfast each day. The owner was 'Mary Poppins' or at least it seemed so to me. How delightful, how pleasant, how nice it was for us. One day our outing took us to Halifax and a more heavily populated city. "Veteran's Day" -Tuesday the 11th month, the 11th day, the 11th hour, we did experience 2 minutes of silence. This is an appropriate "Remembrance".
Soon enough we returned to London by train and took a cab between stations. The driver took us the long way and demonstrated a very good tour again that was much less crowded. Continuing by train to Dover at night and arising at 5:00 a.m. we then travelled by ferry boat to Calais, France. Various trains took us through Belgium then south to Luxembourg by way of Bastone and the Ardennes Forest. We stayed at a first class hotel in Luxembourg City and the next morning our new adventure to Echternach and the Belle Air Hotel. Driving a new Renault auto was very pleasant on paved roads that were especially well maintained, although they are narrow. In the early morning we drove through the small towns of Osweiller, Dickweiller, and Hinkel. Memories returned, however were not traumatic as I tried in vain to identify exact places and buildings. Our only human contact was during our purchasing some bakery goodies from a vending truck in Hinkel. The woman driver recognized us as tourists and was very surprised to serve us.
Returning to Echternach in late afternoon we parked the car then did some browsing of coffee shops and small stores. Nora's need to use the facilities caused us to enter into "Beim David". The exceptional restaurant was in line with native architecture and appealed to us as being a real find. Nora spoke right away that she felt guided to this place. Inside inquiry was made and I explained that the door marked "D" was "dames" and encouraged her to go. I had an opportunity next to enter the door marked "H". The super clean restrooms and the mahogany chairs with linen table cloth and napkins created the mood hoped for in a good restaurant.
With no hesitation we ordered the salmon dinner (from the North Sea). The "gourmet chef" prepared and presented the best salmon we have ever eaten. A cream sauce was used and the fish was surrounded with special potatoes and two kinds of veggies. We didn't order a dessert because sipping coffee afterward was all we could handle. So very delicious. While finishing our meal the waitress seemed so pleasant and compared again to Nora's sister, Kathleen. Francine (waitress) asked us if we were on vacation. I replied, no, and told her I had been here 51 years ago. There was a pause and I asked if her mother was available. Francine's answer was quick and positive as she said "she is here" and went to get her from the kitchen area. Because her mother didn't understand English very well, Francine told her about me and as she entered the room our eyes met, in the low light, an instant understanding was made between us and we both released some emotion. It was beyond anything I can explain, but as I stood and placed my hand around her shoulder, it felt so good to embrace this 76 year old lady. During those war years she had suffered the occupation of the Germans over four years. Living conditions were involved with local rock caves and overhanging cliffs. She had to be one of the Echternach girls that helped us making pancakes, sweeping and cleaning tents, and serving coffee. What an inspiration these girls were and now, all these years later, to try to express ourselves was not necessary. Words don't matter when you are surrounded with love. To make all of this extra special, Nora was able to share these moments too. How important this was and truly a reward from the Lord.
A phone call was made by Francine to Fred Karen. We were to meet him the next day at the restaurant. Fred was age 13 years. in 1945. He was proud to be in the resistance at such a young age during the war. At that time older Luxembourg men were taken into the German army and sent to the Russian front. We were not told of any that returned. Later, Fred did work as an engineer for a large company, but his passion was to collect war artifacts all over the local battlefields. He became so involved that an old brewery at Dieterich, Luxembourg was donated and he became a principle curator of this fantastic museum.
The next day Nora and I got an early start and drove across the bridge into Germany. Traveling north we arrived at Ferschweiler, then east to the Prum River. I had forgotten how deep the valleys were and as we descended to the river a sign indicated the incline was 14%. I have never been down such a steep road. Crossing the river we continued in the rolling terrain across the Nims River and into Meckel. Then the Kyll River and on to Speicher, Priest and Auw. Returning we drove the Bitburg-Trier highway south to Trier (see map on page 55). Finally, heading west to Luxembourg and following the Saar River back to
Echternach. In any of the towns that we battled our way through I was only able to find a few of the broken down walls of buildings. All had been restored and back to their original condition with improved streets and town centers. I spent time to conclude, I could make this round trip in approximately four hours that took us over six weeks to accomplish on foot as we fought at the rate of less than 2 miles a day. I am satisfied that those who made the ultimate sacrifice are not carrying the burden anymore and may I say to them Shalom (peace = freedom from troubling thoughts or emotions).
Now it was time to return to the Biem David restaurant to meet Fred Karen and his wife. We arrived to find quite a few patrons and two tables had been joined so we could now enjoy a banquet. Introductions were made and the feast began. Others in the restaurant asked if they could listen to what was being said. Conversation was easy and I began to learn from Fred all about the 4th, 5th, and 87th Divisions that came through this area.
(The 4th Division suffered 300% casualties.)
The 76th was used to make the first successful crossing into Germany. Over the years, Fred Karen continues to add to the museum as others help him. I will send him a German Battle Flag that I captured. He also has attended many reunions in America as guest speaker. His conversation was about all of our G.I.'s that became his friends and he continues to communicate with. Francine's Mother was again with us and the evening past far too quickly. Fred announced that "Liberators" don't pay as our dinner came to an end. (It made me feel like a million bucks)!
Nora, of course, was able to get a great deal of information and helped to arrange a meeting in the morning. We would travel the short distance to Diekirch and have a personal tour of five floors of the museum. Now quite famous as it contains "manikins" dressed in G.I. uniforms. Also, "dummies" to look like German soldiers. (Fred's quote).
I was so privileged to tour with Fred for hours. He showed beautiful markers in stone to define the area each Division crossed over into Germany. Fred had designed them and was so very proud of his efforts. He also gave me books and topographic maps of the area.
I stood amazed at his devotion to our American G.I.'s and reflect on the fact that his experience began at age 13.
Fred, now at age 65, is suffering from Parkinson's disease. He had us cross a covered wooden bridge to examine a highly camouflaged German pill box on the far side of the Saar River into Germany. Nora held back and was unable to view it up close as she recognized how hideous these German emplacements were.
Returning to the parking area, I presented Fred with my last book and told him he earned a metal for being available all these years for our returning veterans.
As our visit of three nights ended, I told Fred that I wish I could have been at Patton's grave site two years earlier and have joined him as again he had a significant role and gave a speech (I have a copy) to a large audience. He then reached into his car and returned to present me with a small American Flag. These, he said, were on either side of the cross at Patton's grave on the 50th. We then embraced and he again called me his Liberator and said he was grateful to be free. Meeting and being with Fred caused me to experience a gift, unlike any other, a gift of closure!
The battlefields, towns, rivers, valleys, and hills had little to offer compared to the experience of close human relationships and I thank God again for His divine care and guidance. He said it - "I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward". I believe it! Gen. 15:1
Third Army = 5 Corps
1 Corps = Several Divisions
Division = General Approximately 10,000
Regiment = Colonel Approximately 3,000
Battalion = Major Approximately 1,000
Company = Captain Approximately 170
Platoon = Lieutenant Approximately 40
Squad = Sergeant Approximately 12
For each rifleman on line there were six men in support.
C.O. = Commanding Officer
Shelter half = Canvas 1/2 pup tent. (no floor)
Bivouac = Campout with minimum gear. (pretend it's not happening)
Fox Hole = Two man hole in ground
Slit Trench = Two man hole in ground
Combat Infantry Badge = Issued to soldiers directly engaging the enemy under
Round = One bullet or artillery shell
Ammo = Ammunition
Recon Patrol = Reconnaissance
Burgermeister = German Mayor
Fraternize = Be friendly
Non-Fraternization = Not friendly
Infantry = Dog Faced Soldier
Hubba Hubba = With vigor
Hubba Hubba with a Wang Dang = Who knows! - Butt in gear and get out of here!
Baptism of Fire = Emersed in battle
Incoming = Enemy artillery
Outgoing = Our artillery
Legacy = Traditions (perhaps non)
Posterity = Succeeding or future generations
Providential = Divine care and guidance
Far = Father (Swedish)
Far Far = Grandfather
Mor = Mother ( Swedish)
Mor Mor = Grandmother (the best)
Campaigns = Major battles
(I was involved in the following campaigns:
"Rhineland". (Three battle stars on my ribbon)
Glory = Perfection (there is no glory in war)
"The Soldier is the Army. No Army is better than its Soldiers ".
"I don't want any of you dying for your Country. Well let those other bastards do that"!
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