DAY 7: Foy, Bastogne, German War Cemetery

There was not a trace of the gloom

of the previous day, as we awoke to a fine, sunny morning. In the light of day, one could begin to fully realize how beautiful the surroundings really were We somewhat lazily removed ourselves from the second floor and proceeded to enjoy the sunshine of the yard for a while, before partaking in a healthy and nutritious breakfast of sugary Belgian cereal

The fatigue of the already week-long journey was constantly present now, and had to be overcome by sheer willpower and enthusiasm. Before we got ready to leave for the day’s affairs, we took some time to notice the thoughtful and charming details around the yard Upon exiting our enclosure, we looked around. Our cat friend was nowhere to be found. There were, however, lovely fields stretching out into the horizon, as far as the eye could seeIt would have been a shame not to investigate further, so we headed down the path between the houses and toward the greenery. We first encountered a friendly horse, who, in the manner of the cat, began practically running enthusiastically in our direction; perhaps an ingrained association of people with food, or the animals were just incredibly friendly and welcoming in this part of the worldIt also quite obligingly submitted to petting and portraitsWe moved on, managed to get shocked by an electric animal fence on the way to the fields, and were soon aptly rewarded for our suffering with more pretty views. Belgium definitely wasn’t proving to be ugly, so far We then ran into some local bovines that looked like they’ve been going a bit too heavy on the steroidsSteak material, surely…But it was time to head back and begin the day proper. We had a lot of ground to cover and our somewhat late wake-up had already infringed on the available hours. Soon we were back at the Peugeot and headed, once more, to Foy – our destination from the night previous. There was more to see there, both in the woods, and also in the small village itself. We first returned directly to the Bois Jacques area, to further explore the battle site.

The unpleasant surprise of other cars was justified – it soon revealed pan-European tourists perusing the main area of the attraction – the foxholes. We thought we’d give them some time to disperse (or quiet down – either would have been an improvement), so we walked further west from the parking lot, to explore that part of the woods. This was the area where Major Winters (of Band of Brothers fame)’s HQ was, during the Battle of Foy in 1944-45Beautiful yellow flowers and fallen trees lined the area, where the dividing line between D and E Companies of the PIR 506th, 101st Airborne once ranThe trees further down the line, around where the D Company positions were once located, looked dead and withered, like we had noticed last evening. In this area of the forest, their condition seemed to me a lot more pronounced. Perhaps it was a lack or sunlight or nutrients in the soil, or simply the residual energy of what had taken place here seventy-five years agoThe D Company area was, however, quite large, and some parts of it featured healthier forest, as well as lack of tourists. We walked around a bit, exploring the peaceful woods, where shells once whistled overheadSoon, the tourists had gone, and we went back to the E Company foxhole area to see the place again in daylight. We could now clearly see how close the foxholes were to the road, which I believe, was not there in the 1940sAfter returning to the car, we proceeded to drive further down the same road, to visit a monument to the US 101st Airborne that fought in the areaWe had wrongly assumed the night before, that the clearing in the Bois Jacques area was the location of the 506th’s counterattack on Foy, on January 9, 1945. We had done some research on where the real location was, and after the brief stop at the monument, we turned the car around and headed back to the main road, locally dubbed the N30. The actual location of the counterattack was located in a southwesterly direction from intersection of the main Foy road and N30. We, of course, first made a wrong right turn and wound up practically in the backyard of a local family that was in the middle of a social with friends in the backyard. After nearly giving them a heart attack, we realized that we were perhaps not in the right spot and quickly relieved them of the anxiety of having two Balkan-looking foreigners so close to their property.

On to the right turn that actually led to the site, then. When we found it, just a few hundred meters down the road, we parked the Peugeot on the road bank and proceeded inward on foot. The tree-shaded path was beautiful and green with the colors of early summerAn old, wooden gate post definitely looked like a period piece from the era of the Second World War, and we were delighted to see itIt did not take long before the spot that was our goal was revealed to us. This is the location (or close to it) of the famous Speirs charge on January 9, 1945, during the counterattack on the village of Foy, involving Easy Company, as well as two other companies from the US 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Now overgrown with lush greenery and peaceful in the overcast summer day, the place did not even remotely hint at what took place here decades agoWe took a leisurely walk back on the picturesque path and returned to the car, only to, you guessed it, return to Foy yet again. For in concentrating our attention on the woods outside of the village, we had neglected to take a look at the vintage-looking buildings next to the church, whose bullet-riddled facades gave away their presence at the Battle of Foy. We parked the car next to the St. Barbara Chapel and went outside to check out the buildings and take some photographs. No one was around, so we spent a good amount of time shooting and peeking into the windows of the old barns. The stone walls and vivid window covers were quite atmosphericVintage-looking lamps decorated some of themAs did bullet holes from the battle that took place hereAccording to our custom maps, that someone had made specifically to show locations of the scenes depicted in the Band of Brothers series, this particular building’s window was the one “Shifty” Powers shot a German sniper out ofThe bullet damage adjacent to the window frame would certainly support this theoryNext to Shifty’s building a very old-looking stone barn still stood, weathered and aged by time’s march We even managed to have a few peeks inside Next, on what was already shaping up to be a long, busy day, we were planning to head to nearby Bastogne. Not only for the war history, but also for the sake of our calorie intake. Lunch time had long passed and we were in need of food, so we thought we’d combine exploration with a meal.

Arriving in Bastogne

we found it busy and noisy. It was Saturday. We barely found a parking spot for the car, and when we did, its location had ensured for us a long walk on empty stomachs. Nevertheless, we were somewhat eager to look around. Bastogne was the site of a major siege during the Battle of The Bulge in December 1944, and was also portrayed in some detail in the Band of Brothers series. Aside from all of this, we were interested in just seeing a new town, so we got our cameras, and down the road we went. We passed by a pretty buildingAnd a war memorialAnd then next to the Bastogne Church, which, sadly was closed to externals like us, due to an eventIt was time to enter the menagerie of the main street. Crowds and screaming kids from a fair-type gathering nearby ushered us in, and a jerrycan sculpture presented a weird sightTo summarize affairs, we basically walked up and down the main thoroughfare for what seemed like an eternity, tired and hungry, trying to find a place where we could perhaps have food different than the usual pizza or pasta that had mostly been our fare thus far And we never did. Consequently, after lunch at a pizza restaurant whose atmosphere was so poor that the experience is not worth mentioning, we felt somewhat revived and decided to check out the Mardasson Memorial nearby.

A Screaming Eagle greeted us on the way in

presenting a sight already familiar in an area whose fate and history had been heavily shaped by the US 101st AirborneThe noisy hordes of tourists, a healthy mix of Americans in their midst this time, were stapled to the experience, as usual. However, the grandeur of the monument was such, that it wasn’t hard to ignore the disturbance and focus on the site itselfMajestic scrolls of carved writing crawled up the shady wallsAnd the epic rotunda imortalized each of the US states in stoneWe had to admit, tourist trap though it was, it was a pretty cool spot!

Wondering where to go next (as if we hadn’t had enough fatigue-tinged excitement so far), we were drwan to a somewhat peculiar place nearby – Bois de la Paix, or the Woods of Peace. A park featuring 4,000 trees, planted for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, it gathered many species of wood, each native to the different country that planted it, all in the name of peace. As we began our walk in, the serenity of the place’s wooded paths was already enjoyable, even as tired as our legs wereAt the end of the walkway, a sign greeted us, explaining the purpose of the parkWhat we did not know is that the Woods of Peace also contained a number of memorial stone fields that honored individuals who fought in the Battle of The Bulge. The 101st Airborne was again present in large numbersWe completed a tired walk around the circular setting of the park and retreated back to the car. Our energy was almost entirely depleted from its finite reservoir now, and we figured we had only one more site that we could fit in for the day. It was plain what that would be. We had marked it down the day before, upon noticing it on the map, and now it was time, once again, for the day to finish at a cemetery.

When you’re exploring the remains of war, graves are a constant companion on your itinerary. And the sizable German war cemetery right outside of Foy, next to the village of Recogne was nothing to be missed.

Once again, entering a solemn compound like this, one immediately feels the immense weight of bloody European history. German war cemeteries abroad are not often fraught with visitors, and we were all alone. The arches of the solid, stone chapel welcomed us inInside, the memorial was poignant, with streams of light from the windows penetrating the otherwise dark spaceLots of flowers and well-wishing cards from all nations crowded the altar. This one was from British comradesThe design details were very interesting and had a defiunite Teutonic feel to themIt was outside that the real human cost of this war history that we were exploring became, once again, painfully apparent. The graves stood, almost as far as the eye could see, in neat, cold rows, marking the final resting places of so much of Nazi Germany’s youthThe unknown soldiers, three to a grave, made up a large part of those buried hereThe rows stood alone and mute, yet speaking powerfully to the pointlessness of such struggle and to the waste of life it inevitably leaves behind Some of the soldiers were barely eighteen years old when they diedOthers were killed on ChristmasSurrounded by quiet, the beautiful Belgian countryside and the numerous dead, we felt the somber atmosphere quite strongly. And we also felt the fatigue, once again, strongly making its point and making us surrender exploration into the arms of rest and recovery. As we headed toward the exit, the majestic main chapel bid us a final adieu in silence. We left it to its duty of watching over the German dead that fell seventy-five years ago for a cause they believed to be just, and proceeded to our car. It was to take us back to our temporary home, where we would rest, drink the remains of our Belgian liquor and plan out the final day on our already beyond epic D-Day adventure.

At the end of this full itinerary, a monumental decision weighed down our enjoyment of Belgian beer – namely if we should spend our last day in Liège and get a further taste of what Belgium had to offer, or undertake a similar-length trip to Luxembourg and briefly explore a whole new country for the first time.

Tomorrow’s dawn would show what fortunes our last day would bring.

The Last Day

| Text by Manol Z. Manolov
| Images by Manol Z. Manolov and Nikolay Bratovanov © 2019