Volksmarch column for the December 24, 2009 edition
December 24, 2009
Happy holidays, everybody! No matter which holiday you celebrate, we hope it finds you in the best of health and spirits.
We know a lot of you will be heading home for the holidays, but if your family is visiting you here in Europe, this would be a good time to introduce them to European culture by taking them on a volksmarch. Let them enjoy a brisk walk in the countryside, followed by a beer and a bratwurst. Who knows? They might not want to go home! Volksmarching is a sport that you can take back to the States with you, so you don’t have to hang up your walking shoes when you leave Europe.
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After action report: Bastogne Historical walk.
It was one heck of a weekend in Bastogne, Belgium, a couple of weeks ago. We drove down on Friday afternoon and picked up our walk materials at the start hall. This gave us a chance to chat with Tom Larsheid and his wife, Carol, Ed and Marion Lapotsky and Jerry Luchesi. We also had the pleasure of a nice talk with Maurice Spirandeau, a veteran of Patton’s Third Army.
After checking into our hotel, we met our friends the Stresmans and the Duplains for dinner. Following an excellent "Pizza Ardennase" at Restaurant Giorgi, we walked the length of town to get to the special showing of "Bedford: The Town They Left Behind." We found this to be a moving and thought-provoking film and feel that more people need to see this documentary. Afterwards, the movie’s director, Joe Fabb, fielded questions about the film from the audience.
Saturday morning a few snow flurries accompanied us to the start of the walk. Following a rousing, pre-dawn pep talk by walk coordinator Ed Lapotsky, who implored us to remember that freedom was the reason that so many brave men fought and died in Bastogne 65 years earlier, we joined more than 4,000 people and walked back in time to honor those warriors. After a short walk through the city, we were soon in the outlying areas where much of the bitter fighting took place.
At several places along the route, World War II re-enactors set up fighting positions, tents, aid stations and road blocks, often in the same places as 65 years earlier.
The mild weather in the days leading up to the walk left the trail muddy in many places, but at least we didn’t have to deal with the icy conditions of years past. We were busy talking with friends and ended up playing "follow the leader," which caused us to miss a sign, so we ended up on a longer trail than we had planned on taking. In the end, this was good luck because we ran into two old friends who were re-enactors that we would have missed if we had stuck to our shorter route. Daniel Williams and Kyle Thomas are both stationed in the U.S., but came back to Belgium to take part in this historic weekend. Not only were they in their foxholes in the woods, but they also were involved in parades through the town. It seems as if we saw them everywhere as they did their part to honor the men of the 101st Airborne Division.
We saw a lot of friends from the Brunssum, Schinnen and Geilenkirchen areas: Shannon Shackelford, Trudy and Joe Wheatley, Glen Clinch, neighbors Tom and Patricia McAdow, and Doug LaVien and his dad, who came over from the U.S. for this event. We even saw Jacques Liska along the route. If you recall, earlier in the year, we mentioned Jacques’ 1200-kilometer, 70-plus day adventure walk across Japan, including Mt. Fuji. He’s now preparing for a walking trip of New Zealand and Australia.
We made it to the Boggess Bunker just in time for the wreath-laying ceremony and howitzer volley to honor those who fought and died in and around Bastogne. After that, it was a short walk back into town for the other festivities. After a lunch of pumpkin soup with a piece of homemade sausage at the Christmas market, we went to the "I was 20 in ’45" exposition. When this exhibit opened five years ago, it was supposed to be temporary. It has proven to be so popular that it is still open today. Some of the displays have changed since the last time we visited, which tells us they are updating and improving all the time.
After a quick trip to the hotel to freshen up, 10 of us met at the Wagon Leo for dinner. Another good meal was had by all and the fellowship shared was priceless. Then came another walk along the main street of Bastogne, which had been closed to traffic all day and made into a huge pedestrian zone. We didn’t last too long because it had been a very long day, so we made our way back to the hotel.
On Sunday morning we awoke to a dusting of snow on the ground and a forecast for more on the way. Not wanting to take a chance of getting snowed in, we started the trip back to the Netherlands. We hear that the Liberty Jump Team had a very successful parachute jump into a farm field near the Mardisson Monument. All told, it was a weekend that will be long remembered. Time spent with good friends along with the opportunity to pay our respects to the men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge made it a very special event. In fact, we have already made our hotel reservations for next year’s Bastogne Historical Walk.
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Next Wednesday is one of our favorite walks: the annual Oliebollenwandeltocht in Simpelveld, Netherlands. Oliebollen are a seasonal Dutch pastry, which, if you eat them, are said to bring you good luck in the New Year. These tangerine-sized balls of fried dough can be plain or with raisins. They are served warm with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. This walk will have oliebollen and Glühwein at the start and controls. What a great combination to fight off the cold in late December!
Miscellaneous notes about this week’s volksmarch events:
• Your last chance for a torch walk in 2009 is Wednesday in Wolferstadt, Germany. Bring a flashlight just in case, and start this walk between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. You must be finished by 9 p.m. Organizers have a regular walk planned earlier in the day that you can start at 7 a.m. They are offering B-medals again this year.
Notes about walks in Italy:
• Since Dec. 26 is a holiday, there are walks in Italy. Our friend Clark Soeldner says, "Every time I have done the Canove di Legnano walk it has been COLD! However, the IVV stamps are done in a nice WARM room!"
• The full name for the Cusignana Bassa listing is Cusignana Bassa di Giavera del Montello. "This is a very popular walk in a very pretty area," Clark says. "I would recommend arriving early as parking could be an adventure."
• At the end of the Zanica walk there will be pasta. Final arrival time is 2 p.m.
E-mail volksmarch information to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail brochures to Bob and Lorraine Huffaker, CMR 460, Box 278, APO, AE, 09752.