Off the beaten path and into the foxholes . . . with children

Off the beaten path and into the foxholes . . . with children

by Diana Maria Groom
Stripes Europe

Bastogne is a picturesque European town perched on the edge of the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. When you walk down the main drag with your children and peek into the chocolate shops and delicious smelling bakeries, you can almost forget what an important and strategic town it was in the throes of World War II. When the shop owners realize you are American, however, you remember because of their warm embrace and smiling faces, truly thrilled to see more Americans visiting their perfect small town.

While the town has a lot to offer, the foxholes of the 101st Easy Company should be your first stop. Using the coordinates, 50.034371, 5.751986, you will find yourself in between the foxholes at a clearing in the forest with views of the farm village of Foy. It is in this spot where you feel it: the silence. The overwhelming deafening silence that shocks you. And I can see it in my children’s eyes; they get it. Our walks through the foxholes form my most precious memories with my children as they are silent, observant, and, most importantly, respectful of where we are. As a parent, I never waited for my children to turn a certain age to venture into the foxholes, I simply started journeying there when my youngest was still a baby. And I will never forget watching my father-in-law, the son of a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, watching his grandchildren happily explore the foxholes. Some things matter more in life than a beach vacation, and this is one of those things. Here, you feel the overwhelming sense that you are surrounded by Americans who gave their lives for something bigger than themselves, for liberty and justice for all.

Bastogne, Belgium | Photo by Diana Groom
Bastogne, Belgium | Photo by Diana Groom

You would be remiss if you neglected to visit the nearby Bastogne War Museum. While a little pricey, it was worth every single euro cent. Surprisingly, the staff looked genuinely pleased that I had brought in my children. My middle son, while not understanding everything at the age of two, had an incredible look of wonder on his face when he stepped up to the still standing Allied tank. While he may not remember that first trip to Bastogne, I have no doubt that my oldest son does. Although my oldest was only five years old on that trip, he got it. He listened to every second of the audio guide—and very poignantly received the guide from the point of view of the young messenger boy who delivered Allied messages during the war. The questions he asked of my husband and my father-in-law still surprise me.

Photo by Diana Groom
Photo by Diana Groom

Aside from the Bastogne War Museum, there is the quaint 101st Airborne Museum. It is a cozy museum occupying the former Officer’s Mess Hall in town. From uniformed mannequins to items from servicemembers long gone, the museum is a perfect stop with small children who are unable to endure the sprawling Bastogne War Museum. There is so much to see in such a small space that it entertains even the youngest of children. Most notably, however, is the hanging paratrooper from the top floor of the museum. He is in proper dress and it took my children’s breath away. Pictured below is my brother, Army Airborne qualified, explaining to the seven cousins what paratroopers did during the war. It is a memory that I will not soon forget. While I would not recommend to families the bomb bunker in the basement, it brought a tear to many a servicemembers’ eyes. For Bastogne and for the 101st Airborne Museum, the war wasn’t over half a century ago, they are living it each day. It is written on the fabric of their everyday lives and always will be.

Photo by Diana Groom
Photo by Diana Groom

While there is lots more to see, don’t miss out on a cozy restaurant called “Brasserie Lamborelle.” This brasserie is one of the few places that serves Airborne Beer in ceramic helmets. It is an experience not to be missed. If you are looking for a family friendly hotel, look no further than the quaint Hotel Melba on the edge of town. It offers a family suite and a perfect breakfast buffet complete with scrambled eggs for the Americans visiting. Each time I stay there, I come across a new group from the Band of Brothers Tour. The friendly group members usually tell me how much they wish they could bring their children but do not feel that their children would understand. I could not disagree more.

My family’s three trips to Bastogne have taught my children so much— of sacrifice and of how to comport themselves on hallowed ground. The incorrect theory that you cannot tour Europe or important war locations with children is false. We as parents are charged with keeping history alive and instructing the next generation on what being a true American means. Taking my children to Bastogne is only the first step in showing them that sometimes it is more important to sacrifice oneself for others and for the common good.

To summarize all of the feelings one gets from travelling to war locations with children, I would share this experience. A Belgian shop owner with tears in his eyes took my husband, a current servicemember, aside and said to him: “Belgium remembers. Belgium remembers what Americans did for us. And we thank you.”

Subscribe to our Stripes Europe newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, helpful PCS tips, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Europe
Pinterest: Stars and Stripes Europe
Instagram: @StarsandStripeseurope

Related Content

Recommended Content