Understanding Sacrifice – Bastogne to Maastricht

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Erica Swenson

Bruce M. Whittier Middle School

Poland, Maine

On Tuesday afternoon I met the Dutch sponsor of my soldier’s grave. Nowy van Hedel and I connected online when I first began my research on a Lewiston, Maine soldier: Private First Class Stanley Clark. He supplied me with many good documents, helped me interpret a lot of the denser military information, and provided lots of insight about what the Netherlands and surrounding area were like during the World War II years. Being able to talk with Nowy face to face was one of the highlights of my whole trip.

Erica 4 - with Nowy

Following an exciting hour at the Bastogne Museum, Nowy took our group’s photographer, Chris Preperato, and me to the Bois Jacques outside the small Belgium village of Foy. This was the frontline location of “Easy” Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment from the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Here we saw the type of forest in which people fought in the Ardennes and evidence of old foxholes.

Erica 2

It was eye opening to realize just how close the front line was to the relief section of the space in which they fought. It was fascinating, too, to peer from the very front line of the forest to the village of Foy where the Germans were dug in. Nowy also took us to the private 101st Airborne Museum in central Bastogne. This museum was located in former gestapo headquarters and it housed a vast collection of 101st Infantry Airborne Division artifacts including several items belonging to members of the 401st Glider Infantry Regiment (Stanley Clark’s section of the military). What will remain the most memorable part of the museum experience for me, however, was that the museum had a bomb shelter in the basement where you could sit through an air raid simulation complete with a crowded dark room, lights flashing, sirens, shaking walls and ceiling, the cries of other people in the shelter, and an overall deafening racket. I knew that everything about the bomb shelter simulation was fake, and yet I was sweating and my heart was beating like crazy for a full ten minutes after I left the museum.

After taking in some of the sights of Bastogne, we visited Stanley Clark’s grave together at the Netherlands American Cemetery. It was very emotional to see Stanley Clark’s actual final resting place after so many months of intensive research. Even though I was born thirty-four years after Clark’s death, it was like visiting the grave of a friend. It was a special moment for Nowy, too, and he did a nice job of explaining why he and so many others in the Netherlands are devoted to the care and research of these fallen American soldiers’ graves: being an occupied country left a huge impression on the Dutch, American service men and women spent an unusually long amount of time in the homes of people in the Netherlands, many Dutch citizens have special decades-old family routines around visiting the graves, and more. I was overwhelmed by Nowy’s generosity and his devotion to keeping Stanley Clark’s story alive. It was an incredible day.

Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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