9 July 2012
The siege of Bastogne was a part of World War II's larger Battle of the Bulge.
For a lot of people of my generation, World War II holds a terrible fascination. It was our parents' war, and their stories--of combat, of privation, of concentration camps--colored our childhood, even as the Vietnam War played out in the backdrop of our own lives.
As I took classes in the history of the 1960s trying to comprehend the decade into which I was born, I also took classes in the history of World War II in the hopes of better understanding the time in which my parents' generation lived. Truth is, dry facts and figures, newsreels and newspapers only give the basics: a battle was fought here; people died; buildings fell. And where war is concerned, I'm not sure there is any understanding.
Like me, the spouse is fascinated (think carefully on the connotation and denotation of that word) with World War II. We come at it from two different directions, however. My father and uncle served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Amphitheater, my uncle saved from certain death at Pearl Harbor by the happenstance of going to early Mass that morning. The spouse is 1/2 German. His grandfather, a German country doctor, died of TB contracted treating troops on the Eastern Front. His mother and aunts tell stories of bombs dropping and fleeing the advancing Russian army.
It was thus that we visited Bastogne. There is a monument, a huge monument, to all the troops who met there. I wandered away from our group and I looked. I listened to the air, the sounds that came from the quarry, the distant lowing of cows and the cries of birds, the sussuration of cars on the highway. I thought about all I'd read about that area, first person accounts and dry history. I thought about the movies and the TV shows that had tried to depict what went on there.
You can watch documentaries; you can watch recreations. You can read all you want. You can stand on the same soil.
There is no understanding.