65 Years

Today we feature a blog post from U.S. Army (Europe) Garrison Benelux Public Affairs Officer, Ms. Marie-Lise Baneton. In addition to being an Army Civilian, Ms. Baneton is a Belgium citizen and a communicator. She, along with many others work as host country staff members while U.S. troops are overseas. Read an excerpt from her entry below about the Battle of the Bulge and the gratitude Europeans still show U.S. Soldiers 65 years later.

If you have a similar story like Ms. Baneton’s experience working with the U.S., leave us your comments below.

blog post 12-10In late 1944, in the wake of the allied forces’ successful D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, it seemed as if the Second World War was all but over. But on Dec. 16, with the onset of winter, the German army launched a counteroffensive that was intended to cut through the Allied forces in a manner that would turn the tide of the war in Hitler’s favor. The battle that ensued is known historically as The Battle of the Bulge. The courage and fortitude of the American Soldier was tested against great adversity. Nevertheless, the quality of his response ultimately meant the victory of freedom over tyranny.

Sixty-five years is a lifetime, a lifetime many West-Europeans would not have enjoyed without the Allies’ Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945. From the beginning of the war to that day that brought their liberties back to them, they had to suffer through five long years of occupation and oppression. They had lost most of their properties and often were mourning a father, a brother, a son or a friend.

Sixty-five years have gone by. The Benelux countries and their populations have since recovered. Those who experienced the difficult years are fading away but the memories and the gratitude are not.

We’ve all seen the pictures of women and young children greeting their American, Canadian, British or Russian liberators. There were only few men around because they had either been killed, hiding with the Resistance or had not returned from the German camps yet.

Many books relate those historical facts. Films and television shows try to capture the pain, the starvation and the fear that were ultimately followed by an intense relief. They also try to capture the courage and values of our Soldiers. 

Being assigned here, however, will do better for you than reading any books or watching any movies. Even if you hate history, or if you had bad history teachers, being in the Benelux will give you a chance to live it. Trust me; you will enjoy the lesson, whether you’re a newcomer or a long-timer who’s been shy to venture in your host nation because of the language barrier. 

As an Army civilian who also happens to be a Belgian citizen and a communicator, I am fortunate to see things very few get to witness. So I thought I’d share some of these moving moments with you.

I’ve seen our sharp color guard, proudly carrying the Belgian and American flags in all kinds of weather, during short and long ceremonies. And I’ve seen their pride when all participants to the Memorial Day ceremonies applauded them as they were leaving the U.S. Military Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle, year after year.

I’ve heard the Belgian children of Waregem sing the Star Spangled Banner during the Memorial Day ceremony at Flanders’ Field, honoring the World War I American Soldiers who gave their all for Belgium.

I’ve seen tears in the eyes of American next-of-kin who finally were able to return to the crash site of a bomber, one of the cemeteries or a monument honoring one of theirs who died too soon because he believed in the cause. Their emotion is not just sadness for the loss, it is gratitude for what the local people have done and are still doing to adopt a grave, build and maintain a monument or simply make sure the young generations will not forget.

I’ve seen Bastogne in December, freezing cold, covered with snow and ice, but still filled with the warmth of friendship, with American flags hanging off every window. It becomes a ‘miniature America’ in Europe where locals want to shake your hand and thank you, only because you’re American.

Submitted By- Maria-Lise Baneton