The Last days in Berlin

The Topography of Terror Museum provided quite a unique experience. The museum consists of dozens of panels that detail how the SS rose to be the premier law enforcement in Germany. The SS originally included followers of Hitler, and as it grew in size, members gained more privileges. Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, made different divisions that all served different purposes. All normal police forces soon were forced to recognize the SS and could not stop them from carrying out their missions. The federal government told the local police that the SS could not be questioned or stopped under any pretense. To me, that is the scariest part because it disposed of checks and balances and jurisdictional boundaries. In law enforcement there are jurisdictions whether it is city lines, county lines, highways, or whatever other jurisdictions there are, that allow certain officers to have certain authorities; the same is true for the federal government. Certain laws have to be violated for federal law enforcement to be involved, and seeing that the SS just took over and told the city police to do what they say is a scary thought to me.

The museum provided extensive details about such SS tactics as public shaming, incarceration, and murder. The SS would shave women in public if they had relations with the wrong person, and they would jail any undesirables. In the end, they would publicly shoot or hang people. All this happened to anyone who disagreed with them, not just Jews, Roma, and Sinti. We learned about Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who came back to Germany, where he spoke against the Nazis. He slowly lost his rights before he was jailed and shot on Hitler’s orders.

The only thing I would change about the museum regards the display of physical artifacts. The Terror Museum is built on the old SS Headquarters, and it sent all the artifacts to other museums or placed them in storage so that certain items or locations would not become centers for modern Nazi worship. While I understand that rationale, I think that seeing the artifacts is as important as reading the information. We learned in class before this trip that the SS produced a plethora of false information making Hitler a World War I hero of Germany, raising his popularity. I am not saying this museum is making false information, but I like seeing history as well as reading about it. It gives me the sense that it is real. I like touching and seeing history.

Not having artifacts in museums goes further than not wanting to have a place for modern-day Nazis to gather; it also ties in with free speech. Without getting political, Germany has laws that prevent the use of sporting SS uniforms, supporting Hitler, supporting swastikas, denying the Holocaust, or engaging in online talk of the same nature. The German children still learn about the German faults in school by reading and visiting sites, but outside of that, all artifacts are heavily regulated. I feel this is a disservice to the public because history makes it real. I feel it is important to see and be able to have a conversation about all parts of history. I understand the purpose of not wanting a new Nazi movement and not wanting a place that they would idolize, but with that, having free choice is also crucial.

In addition, I was disappointed by the major Holocaust memorial in Berlin, known as the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”. This site, an elaborate collection of concrete stela intended to convey isolation and disorientation, has several problems. First, there are only a few small signs explaining the memorial’s purpose and intentions, but they are not prominent and it seemed that no one was reading them. They also did not acknowledge responsibility. Several of the stelae are already falling apart or leaning off their original foundations. In disregard of the historical weight behind the memorial, many visitors were sitting or eating lunch on it or allowing children to run around as if it were a playground. No one was being respectful, quiet, or reflective of one of the greatest atrocities in history.


Continuing our journey throughout Europe, we left France and arrived in Bastogne, Belgium. Here we saw the Bastogne War Museum and the Mardasson Memorial, dedicated to the soldiers of the U.S. Army and their valiant efforts during the Battle of the Bulge. During this trip, I have seen different viewpoints of the war from each country. Britain’s perspective focuses on the teamwork of the Allies defeating Germany together, and the French approach is geared towards remembering the suffering that happened and honoring those who lost their lives. The Bastogne War Museum’s viewpoint was that of the people who experienced the war in their towns and how it affected their personal lives.
While walking through the museum and looking at artifacts and personal accounts, we listened to four different perspectives of those in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The first character introduced is Emile Mostade, a thirteen-year-old whose father owned a bike repair shop. The second character introduced is a young school teacher named Mathilde Devillers. Hans Wegmüller is the third character introduced, and he is a German lieutenant of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division, the unit charged with seizing Bastogne. The last character is Robert Keane, a corporal of the 101st Airborne Division, the unit deployed to defend Bastogne. Positioned in the woods surrounding the city, he participated in action on the front line, as did Hans Wegmüller. This museum told the stories of these four people, who ended up meeting in an underground cellar in Bastogne to take shelter from a German air attack. Hans was a POW guarded by Keane, and Emile and Mathilde were walking through the city when they took refuge.

Before Emile Mostade was separated from his parents, his father told him they would bike to the sea together. When the Germans started bombing Bastogne, Emile’s parents sent him away to find shelter from the oncoming attack. He found shelter from the bombing inside a cellar with several other townspeople. Here he realized that his cellar-living lifestyle was not so bad compared to some people who could not bathe or sit by a fire to warm up. After the bombing had subsided, Emile learned that his parents had been killed, leaving him in the care of an uncle who lived nearby.

Mathilde Devillers was a schoolteacher before the war. Once the Germans invaded, she had to change her form of teaching to secret meetings in closed areas, and then eventually was not able to teach for some time as she joined the Belgian resistance movement. After the war, she resumed teaching again, but things were not the same as she was missing several children in her class who had been killed because of the war.

Robert Keane was a corporal in the 101st Airborne Division whose mission was to defend the city of Bastogne and to keep the Germans from recapturing it. He suffered long, cold nights out in his foxhole defending the town and eventually took injured Hans Wegmüller prisoner. When they entered the city, the bombing started, and they took shelter in the same cellar as Emile and Mathilde. The other locals gave Hans smug looks and questioned his presence in the cellar, while Mathilde gave them soup and tried to fix Hans’ wound. Keane and Hans talked late at night and got to know each other. Once the bombing had stopped and they could leave the cellar, Keane took Hans to the infirmary to get checked out, where they shared a farewell. Hans realized for the first time the people who were being affected by the war in that cellar.

This museum showed me that everyone experiencing the war was still human, no matter their background. Although these stories were based on true events and people, the dialogue was fabricated to tell a story. They wanted to present what a family went through or how a soldier felt after an attack. Whether you were fighting for the Allies or Axis, or were a teacher or a child, the impact of the war did not have favorites and affected everyone, and this museum portrayed that very well.

The Day in Belgium

After World War I, the United States government established the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). Its goal is to create, maintain, and manage cemeteries, monuments, memorials, and markers overseas. Today, ABMC manages 58 properties in 17 countries. Some of the memorials I have seen in France that ABMC manages are the Normandy American Cemetery, Point du Hoc Ranger Monument, and the Utah Beach Monument. All these sites are well managed and properly illustrate the sacrifice of the service members who died fighting for freedom here in Europe.

While the ABMC sites do an excellent job of remembering our loss, one site that is not maintained by ABMC and that we visited was the Baugnez Massacre Memorial at the Baugnez Crossroads in Malmedy, Belgium. I could not find who directly sponsored the building of the memorial, but both the nearby museum and the memorial were made to honor the victims of the massacre. The Baugnez Massacre Memorial on N62 is dedicated to the 84 U.S. Army artillerymen who were gunned down on 17 December 1944 after they surrendered to German forces during the Battle of the Bulge. Capt. Mills of the U.S. Army was moving his men and supporting units along a predetermined route and encountered the 1st SS Panzer division. Vicious fighting quickly broke out which led the Americans to surrender. Commander Joachim Peiper, the German commander, ordered his soldiers to murder, in violation of international law as well as common decency.

This memorial touched me like some of the other ones we have seen. The memorials created by the ABMC are remarkable and do a great job of celebrating the sacrifice our troops made in various battles. The memorials made by private groups or towns mean so much more. They reveal not only what Americans contributed but also how much local peoples appreciate those contributions, which illustrates to me that we fought on the right side making a positive difference. It has significant meaning when another group puts a memorial up and it is relieving to see that others still care about incidents that happened.

The Baugnez memorial is relatively modest: a simple wall with a small black stone depicting the name of each slain U.S. soldier. But its location– across the road from the field where the massacre happened—and the commitment of the local village to maintain the memorial speaks volumes about the tragedy itself and the way the locals remember and commemorate those who were lost. This unfamiliar incident will forever be broadcasted so people can learn the story.

Entering Deutschland

After five days in Normandy, and a quick two days in Paris, our group headed east for Bastogne. As we crossed the Belgian border, the scenery outside of our bus window became more densely filled with the tall, thick trees that make up the Ardennes Forest. Bastogne, Belgium sits close to the Luxembourg border in the southwest region of the country and has a population of fifteen thousand. Liberated by the Allies in September 1944, it was the central focus of Germany’s last major offensive operation of the war in December 1944. Known now as The Battle of the Bulge, it lasted five weeks, until the end of January 1945, and exposed all troops to intense combat in subzero temperatures. After the Nazis’ counterattack failed, their military was in retreat to Berlin until the end of the war in May 1945.

The town of Bastogne had a deep appreciation for the Americans who defended it during the winter siege. Their town square featured the bust of General Anthony McAuliffe, who was the acting commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division. When asked by the Germans to surrender Bastogne, he simply replied with, “Nuts!” Bastogne also featured several shops and bars playing with the “Nuts!” phrase. The Bastogne War Museum is located just outside of town and commemorates the impact of the Americans successfully defending the town. Inside this museum, I made a few comparisons to what our group had seen previously. First, the translations in the exhibits now included German, most likely because we were getting closer to the German border. How would this museum depict Nazi Germany with many of its patrons being from the nearby Deutschland? Second, the museum did not ignore Belgium’s complete history during the war, in which a portion of the population collaborated with the occupying Nazis. Collaboration seemed to be glossed over in museums in France, with more attention focusing on the French Resistance. Lastly, as one tours the museum and learns about the five-week battle, one is offered four different perspectives from nonfictional characters: Emile Mostade, a thirteen-year-old boy who plays the accordion, Mathilde Devillers, a Bastogne native schoolteacher, Hans Wegmüller, a German lieutenant, and Robert Keane, a corporal in the 101st Airborne. Using the audio guide, one can hear each person’s depiction of the events through four voice actors. Each perspective adds more of the human element to the war. This was the first museum to offer a German soldier’s perspective. After visiting the museum, we visited a sector of the Ardennes Forest that Easy Company (101st/506th) occupied. It was fascinating to see their foxholes still dug into the ground.

Bastogne’s city square

The Battle of the Bulge Memorial, in Bastogne. A bird’s eye view from the top reveals its made in the shape of a star

M4 Sherman Tank inside the Bastogne War Museum. Clearly damaged by enemy fire, a massive hole has been ripped into its side.

Fighting hole dug by Easy Company (101st/506th) in the defense of Bastogne. A foxhole allows a soldier to use the earth as protection from direct fire and artillery, as well as a position to return fire.

The thick, tall trees of the Ardennes Forest

After Bastogne, we crossed into Germany and stopped in Remagen. The town sits along the River Rhine and was the location of the crucial Ludendorff Bridge. As the Germans retreated in March 1945, Hitler ordered the bridge to be demolished to slow Allied movement, but the Americans arrived to find it, surprisingly, still intact. Many myths surround the failure of the destruction, and include sabotage, bribery, and treason. U.S. troops would eventually capture the bridge, almost guaranteeing the Allies would march on to Berlin. Nazi commanders tried relentlessly to destroy the bridge after it was captured by the Americans but failed continuously. Hitler would essentially order the executions of five German officers who failed to destroy the bridge before and after the Allies captured it.

This picture was taken where the Ludendorff Bridge used to stand. The dark structure on the other side of the Rhine is where it connected before its collapse.

Dining and drinking on the Rhine was a popular activity in Remagen

The Apollinariskirche Catholic church, overlooking the town of Remagen, Germany.

We hit the road the next morning, and to help break up the drive to Berlin, we stopped in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. This town is located near Point Alpha, which was an important U.S. Army observation post during the Cold War. With post-war Germany now split between capitalism and communism, tensions along the West Germany/East Germany border became heightened. As many in East Germany were fleeing to the capitalistic West, the threat of a Soviet invasion also loomed, and Point Alpha was where NATO believed the invasion would begin. Professor Mansoor was stationed at Point Alpha in the late 1980s, and to hear him relive his glory days as a company tank commander was enjoyable.

This tower was used by East Germany’s border police to ensure no citizens were fleeing across the border to the West. If detection by the tower was avoided, one would still have to navigate hungry, aggressive German Sheperds, a minefield, and a fence & wall.

This United States flagpole was placed on the West Germany side of the border, near the observation tower. Note that it is not actually planted in the ground, indicating the United States is not occupying this area, only protecting it.


Comparing the Battle of the Bulge to Omaha Beach

Elijah Bohman             Blog Post 3      5/21/23

Comparing Battle of the Bulge to Omaha Beach:

The battle on Omaha Beach was brutal, violent, and notorious as one of the bloodiest in American history. The Battle of the Bulge is one of the few battles in history that can claim to have been bloodier and more ferocious. As the Allies approached Germany from the West, Hitler launched a surprise counterattack against the Allied forces in Belgium. The German Army was ruthless and efficient in the move, killing many and pushing into Allied lines. While in the end a failure, the German counterattack was savage, causing over 76,000 Allied casualties and making the Battle of the Bulge the fiercest battle America fought in World War II.

While I was on Omaha beach, I was surprised at the size of the beach, the distance men had to cross to reach their enemies. The sheer width as well shocked me, as the soldiers were deployed along six miles of flat beach while being shot at constantly. That situation, however, pales in comparison to the Battle of the Bulge. The latter engagement was fought over an entire countryside, stretching across Belgium and the Ardennes Forest. We visited Bastogne, at the center of the expanse where the Battle of the Bulge took place. We then drove an hour to Baugnez and were still in an area where the battle was fought. We drove through the battlegrounds, where thousands of men on both sides fought and died, struggling to push past the other. Even now, after driving through it, it is difficult to think of the immense size of the battle that spread over an entire front. Omaha Beach was very deadly, with over 2,400 Americans killed there on D-Day . The Battle of the Bulge was somehow even more chaotic in the beginning. Surprising the Allies initially, the Germans killed an estimated 8,100 U.S. soldiers. Total casualties were around 76,000, as seen in this remembrance plaque at the Mardasson Memorial:

During the Battle of the Bulge, the Waffen SS massacred over 70 American prisoners of war in a field by the Baugnez Crossroads, a site that we visited. It was very quiet there, and standing next to the field where so many Americans prisoners were murdered generated the sad thought that those men could and should have lived and seen a full life after the war–but for the brutality of the Nazis.

Picture of field:







Travelling from Paris to Berlin, we stopped in three different towns: Bastogne, Remagen, and Bad Hersfeld. All three cities offered something new to offer which I had yet to experience while on the trip. While all three cities were enjoyable, my favorite city to visit was Bastogne.

Bastogne is an important city due to the Battle of the Bulge, fought in the winter of 1944-1945. During the siege of Bastogne, the 101st Airborne Division and elements of other American units held off German assaults until they were rescued by Patton’s Third Army. While we only spent one night in Bastogne, this small Belgian town had a much larger meaning in the history of WWII.

When I was younger, one of my favorite TV shows was the docuseries Band of Brothers. It follows E Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment from their landings on the Normandy beaches to the heart of Germany. In one of the episodes, it follows them in the woods outside of Bastogne and one of their medics working in the church turned into a field hospital. I loved that episode, and it was of the most important events that sparked my love for military history. It was a surreal experience walking through the museum and seeing names that I recognized from the show. It was surreal being on the actual ground where we explored their foxholes, and that I was in the foxholes they dug to defend the city against a vastly superior force. I looked over the town of Foy which is a focal point of the episode and imagined what the soldiers freezing in the foxholes fearing for their life must have felt. It was a moving experience as I examined the places about which I had read and watched.

The church was a different experience for me as well. During the siege, it was used as a hospital for soldiers. I remember walking around and through it and just feeling overwhelmed as I knew what went on both around and inside the church.

Finally, I have a small personal connection which made the city even more special. During World War II, my grandfather served as a medic in Patton’s third army. He did the job that went on inside the church. He would have been in Bastogne as part of the Third Army, and I imagine he may have treated some of the men who were in the church. Being in the area that I have a direct familial connection to was surreal as I walked around the town he was in roughly 80 years ago.

While this trip has been amazing, and a learning experience, the fact that Bastogne was one of the events that brought me into military history and that my grandfather was a member of the army that rescued the soldiers who fought there meant something special that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Easy company Foxhole just outside of Bastogne

From the foxholes of easy company overlooking the town of Foy

Church in Bastogne that was used as a field hospital during the siege

Point Alpha

I found Point Alpha to be a very informative experience. I had a vision in my head about what the border between Communism and the Free World would be like, but visiting it helped me fill in the blanks. For one, our tour guide, Mr. Hahn, had grown up on the west/free side of Germany and was able to provide insights about the border that I would have not learned anywhere else. The border was slowly fortified from the end of WWII until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. As we walked through the small museum, we learned about the simple beginnings of the East German fortifications. They began with a simple stop sign and two fences specially built to keep the population in East German territory. From there, the East Germans added mines, double fences, guard dogs, and other experimental methods of controlling the border. As we passed each exhibit, Mr. Hahn would add a personal anecdote about his experiences. His thick German accent and short clipped language only added to his credibility. The story of guard dogs was particularly touching and sad. They were intentionally starved and beaten to make them ultra-aggressive and had to be kept five meters away from each other so they would not attack and kill one another.

This was a stark contrast to the Allied side.  On the other side of the wall, small white fence posts marked the West German border. As time went on, and the East Germans were strapped for cash, they began abducting tourists from the border and holding them for ransom. So, the West German government put up a small fence. The border on the eastern side was designed to keep the population in, but American soldiers in towers on the western side were looking for any potential military attacks.  The Soviet war plans—recovered after the Iron Curtain fell—dictated an armored frontal assault through the Point, and the small, allied guard would have been the first in combat. American soldiers were kind to the German people with whom they were living. Mr. Hahn fondly remembers getting chocolate, coffee, and his first cigarette from the soldiers.

But living on the border was not as happy as it seemed. Though many East Germans tried to escape, only a few made it through to the west once the Iron Curtain was erected in its full form. This story from Mr. Hahn was the saddest yet. There was a cross, made of birch wood, on the western side of the border. It was in memory of a man who on Christmas Eve had made it through the first fence, through the minefield and other traps, and all the way up to the top of the second fence before being shot in the leg by an autonomous robotic weapon. He fell back down to the east side of the fence. The American soldiers and West Germans listened helplessly to the man cry out in pain for most of the night until he fell silent. Nobody could help him, as crossing the fence could lead to a third World War. When morning came, the East Germans came to pick up the body. It was the best example of the divide between East and West.

War and Remembrance in Belgium


Remains of the Easy Company Foxholes

It was a short but wonderful jaunt through Belgium towards Germany on the last leg of our history trip, but I’m really glad we made time to stop here. Situated on a hill overlooking the town of Bastogne was an incredible Belgian museum as well as a touching memorial dedicated to the American soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. We also made an unplanned visit to some of the preserved foxholes of Easy Company from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Truth be told, they were just humble dents in the ground, but these foxholes were still a physical legacy from the fighting that engulfed this region and that merits some amount of introspection.

Remains of an American tank damaged in the fighting over Bastogne.

In the museum we were treated to a general timeline of the war as it played out in Europe. What immediately impressed me was how the curator chose to narrate the history through the voices of four different characters, two Belgian citizens and two soldiers – one US and one German. It gave a great personal touch to the exhibits, especially when it was revealed that the characters and narrated events were actually real. I found a much more emotionally stimulating experience in this museum than others, but the final exhibit was the highlight of Bastogne to me. For the war’s 75th anniversary, able veterans made their way back to Bastogne to pose for a portrait and give a small interview. I only wish I had remembered to take some photographs of the exhibit for the blog, but it was a truly moving gallery and one I will remember.

A memorial to the 101st Airborne Division who made up half of the town’s 22,000 defenders.

The imposing memorial just beyond the museum was also a show of the overwhelming gratitude of the Belgian people. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Bomber Command memorial in London, but it pales in comparison to the Bastogne monument in scale and commitment to dedication, at least in my eyes. The sheer gratitude towards the American servicemen who fought in Belgium initially caught me off guard, but it was awe-inspiring to see. The humility and gratitude of the Belgian people have been a fascinating cultural tone to see and experience here in Bastogne.

Point Alpha

Observation Post Alpha – now called just Point Alpha – was the forward-most U.S. Army observation post in Germany, where WW3 would have started on a moment’s notice. Located in the state of Hesse near Fulda, Point Alpha is now a monument and museum where only a fence and two observation towers – one East German and one U.S. – tell the story of what happened during this forty-year confrontation. Exploring this venuewith our German guide taught me a great deal about a part of history with which I was unfamiliar. The spring history courses on the Grand Alliance and World War II provide me a solid foundation on the Second World War, but the Cold War was new territory for me. Seeing Point Alpha opened my mind to another part of history with which I’ve become fascinated.


The Iron Curtain – here at Point Alpha literally an iron fence and not a cement wall – stayed up for forty years and progressively got more dangerous. The East Germans added motion detectors that fired robotic guns at anyone trying to scale the fence, as well as an electric fence and mines that prevented most escapes. More than two-thousand guard dogs were ready to tear into the flesh of anyone straying into their territory; after the Iron Curtain fell these dogs had to be euthanized because they were too vicious to be adopted as pets.


This border became a cruel reality for many East Germans who desired to emigrate to the West. It was surreal to me seeing how small the gap was between the Warsaw Pact and NATO sides. So close to freedom yet so far for so many East Germans; they were locked in a national prison. Taking a deeper look, this isn’t much different to what’s happening today in North and South Korea at the 38th parallel. During the Cold War tourists visited the border and peered at the other side of a world that was alien to them. It was definitely very devastating for me that people were locked up within their own communities, and that too many continue to be shut in today around the world.


Guard Dog and Electrified Fence Used at Border


In sharp contrast to the fortified border, the American forces installed a flag pole that did not touch the ground, but was attached to four supports. The U.S. troops wanted to raise the American flag every day in the border camp, but they wanted to make the point that they were not occupying Germany but rather defending it.

Following In Their Footsteps

As we said “Au Revoir” to Paris and headed East to Bastogne and the Ardennes forest, my mind began to wonder how this area must have looked to the Allies as they made their push onwards to Germany to stamp out the last of the Nazi German resistance. On the drive into Bastogne, I couldn’t help but notice that this area of Belgium that lay sandwiched between France and Germany is beautiful, with rolling hills, dense forest, and winding roads, making me think I was on summer holiday, that I was about to engage in a week of camping fun rather than visit the town of Bastogne and pay my respects to the bloodiest battle in the history of the Army. The Battle of the Bulge was fought among those very woods and hills; the picturesque landscape I had enjoyed seeing was once the killing grounds for the Allied and Nazi forces alike. That was sobering to think about as I looked out onto the hills.

I will not dwell on the museum too much that we visited in Bastogne, though it was informative and tastefully done with a theme based on four, interconnected, true stories of people who experienced the battle (an American soldier, a German soldier, a Belgian schoolteacher, and a Belgian child). The part of the museum that I found most impactful was a remote, outdoor annex about 4 kilometers from the main museum. Visiting that site revealed powerfully to me just how hard the conditions were for the American soldiers who repulsed the last gasp German offensive and how they effectively turned the attacking Germans into a retreating force. It was the post museum trip to the original 101st Airborne foxholes in the forest outside the city of Bastogne that the weight of history really settled upon my shoulders. We visited the foxholes on a bright and sunny day, the temp was hovering at about 63 with the wind blowing softly as we walked in the dense forest shade, and I was absolutely freezing even with my jacket and hoodie on, in the month of May no less. Staring at the foxholes and feeling how the wind cut right through me on the top of that knoll made me reflect on the misery that the men of the 101st and other units must have suffered in the depths of December with temps as low as -15, without winter uniforms or hot food. The men who defended Bastogne answered the call, bore their misery with as much stamina as they could muster, with a good amount of gripes thrown in (I imagine that they used language our mothers would not have approved of), yet still they held the line and repulsed the Nazis, holding steadfast in the face of adversity. I walked away with newfound respect and awe for all the stories I had read about the battle and the conditions it was fought in and I worked to keep that in mind as we headed out for Remagen the very next day.

​ The city of Remagen is tucked into the hillsides that dip and dive around the Rhine River. If I had had no contextual knowledge of the battle fought here (the one in which the U.S. Army captured its first bridge across the Rhine and used it to drive deep into Germany), I would have seen Remagen as nothing more than a beautiful travel destination. During World War II, the Ludendorff Bridge spanned the Rhine River and though it was not in the most ideal location for an American crossing of the river, it was a bridge and it was intact and that was enough reason for the Allies to capture it. German attempts to blow the bridge failed and all their counterattacks to repel the American forces were defeated.  The first American soldier to cross the Rhine was Sgt. Drabik, who ran the span of the bridge head under fire, reached bomb craters on the eastern side, and drove off German counter-attackers long enough for his comrades to join him. This small story brings me immense pride, because he was a northwest Ohio native just as I am!

After we had visited the museum, I walked along the riverfront biking and walking path and just really started to soak in just how hard it would have been back then to capture the Ludendorff Bridge, ford the river, or install temporary pontoon bridges . I could see that the Rhine is wide, swift, and deep; I could imagine the stout German defenses including threat of V-2 rocket attacks; and I could thus feel the immense stress the G.Is must have felt. Reading over how the bridge was taken as well as being able to take in the sights for myself and once again feel the weight of history in this location gave me a strong feel for what it must have been like over 80 years ago. On this trip I have been filled with thanks and gratitude for those that had come before and once again I reflect in awe at those men who did the impossible and made the superhuman just a regular part of their lives.

​Ultimately, being able to visit these locations has added a dimension to my knowledge that reading about and seeing photos of the sites does not provide.  To stand among the trees in Belgium or gaze to the distant other shore of the Rhine puts into perspective just how much logistical difficulty the war presented. I feel as if I have a much larger appreciation for the adversity everyone experienced, that went beyond fighting a determined enemy, and included battling the terrain around them. As we leave this area behind us on our push into Berlin, I give the entirety of my respect to those who had to endure bitter cold, muddy hillsides, and raging rivers to carry on and bring the war to a close.