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BASTOGNE, Belgium — Much like it did 60 years ago, the weather finally broke Sunday for those assembled in the Ardennes, allowing events to unfold according to script.

It may not have been as cold and as snowy as it was during the Battle of the Bulge, but the past couple of days have had an edge to them. On Sunday, the final day for commemorative ceremonies marking the historic battle, the skies parted and the sun surfaced just in time to allow 19 American re-enactors to parachute over the grounds of the Mardasson, the village’s World War II memorial park.

“The jump was nice, a little windy though,” said Jan Patronek, the first man to leap out of the vintage Dakota aircraft. “It was colder in the airplane than on the ground.”

Up until the last hour, the noontime jump was touch and go due to a low blanket of clouds. The weather in Belgium and Luxembourg over the past few days has been cold and windy. Coupled with the snow that fell Friday, conditions in the Ardennes region are similar to what soldiers and their allies endured 60 years ago.

“We have to share the pleasures,” cracked Stephan Hadjadje, a French re-enactor who watched the parachute jump.

The pleasure has been all Bastogne’s.

Thousands of residents turned out Saturday night for an outdoor sound and light show, a show that yanked people back to the tenuous days of the war. Except for several searchlights scouring the heavens, all lights downtown were extinguished to heighten the effect. Prerecorded sounds of gunfire and bombs echoed through the streets. The show ended with an impressive fireworks display.

In addition to the parachute jump, Sunday’s itinerary included a church service in Noville and a ceremony in the hamlets of Baugnez honoring a group of American prisoners executed by their German captors.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, attended the later event.

The weekend concluded with a two-hour parade of WWII vintage vehicles through the city of Bastogne.

“Many of us still remember,” said Hadjadje, one of 24 Frenchmen, who spent the weekend clad in period military clothing. Dressing up “is our tribute to the guys who did it.”

Anniversaries such as this one always draw hundreds of re-enactors. Usually, they only dress the part, but Hadjadje and his group took their passion one cold step further. Friday night found them digging foxholes in the Breuchy woods, southwest of Bastogne. Believe it or not they stayed put, occasionally going out “on patrol,” mostly to warm up.

“We didn’t sleep, not at all,” Hadjadje said.

“It was cold, and it was wet,” added Anton Holgerson, a Frenchman whose father served in the U.S. Navy during the war. “But it was also a good experience to see how they lived.”

A half hour earlier one of today’s sailors spied another group of re-enactors making their way toward the Mardasson.

Navy Cmdr. Tim Trampenau and his young son came to Bastogne for the day from Stuttgart, Germany. Two other dad-son teams joined them as part of a casual outing for their local Webelos den.

“They have fun with it, which seems kind of strange to us,” Trampenau said of the re-enactors. He then smiled: “Why don’t they dress up as French or Belgium guys?”

Trampenau then answered his own question, noting that people the world over like to be associated with winners. But men and women who participated in the war epitomized the term winner by anyone’s standard.

One of the millions of vets from the war was Patronek’s 94-year-old father, Walter, who served in the Pacific theater.

“It’s been a busy year, three trips to Europe,” said Patronek, eluding to earlier commemorations in Normandy, France, and Holland.

Patronek, a resident of Oklahoma and a member of a WWII airborne demonstration team, posed for pictures with people after his jump. He was a popular man, and even more popular once he started talking to the locals about his father.

“The respect and gratitude they show us when we come here is heart warming,” Patronek said. “It’s probably the greatest reward.”


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