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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Trip to France, Part I — Bastogne and "E" company



In 2014 when Benjamin and I stood near Lt. Col. Emile Driant’s grave in the Bois des Caures at Verdun, I promised him we’d be there together again on Feb. 21, 2016. Then cancer came and ruined so many plans, taking the heart of out my life. We both realized in January that it would be impossible for me to visit him in France this time despite hopes and promises.

A friend of mine heard about this over lunch and surprised me by telling me she’d pay for the trip because she really wanted me to go. I texted this to Benjamin right then and there, and he was thrilled. So, long story short, I bought the ticket and flew to France on Feb. 5 via Icelandair. I flew home on Feb. 23. That’s not quite three weeks in France.

I had planned to share my travels via this blog, but we were so busy and everything was moving so quickly that I didn’t have a chance. I’ll try to make up for that now.

I arrived at noon and waited a short time for Benjamin to find me. He took my luggage and we hopped on to the RER B for St. Rémy les Chevreuse, hereafter called St. Rémy of the Goats or just The Goats. My British friend (married to a Frenchman) Bridget welcomed us at her house, which served as a kind of home base for these three weeks, despite the fact that we were rarely there. (Thank you, Bridget!)

It was so fabulous to see Benjamin again. Being away from people love and people who love us can feel like a drought, even when we're with other loved ones and friends. I have missed him so much. Hugging him again was just fabulous.

We had dinner with Bridget and Pierre, a friend from Paris, at a pizzaria in town. Later, we met her husband Michel and her sons, Tomas and Henry, and her daughter Juliette.

The next morning, we went back to Paris — it’s most of an hour's ride to/from The Goats on the RER B — and caught the train for Bastogne, a trip that would take us through Luxembourg into Belgium, where we hoped to visit sites where “E” company — Easy Company made famous by “Band of Brothers” —fought in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge. 


One of the trains wasn’t running, so we had to take a bus from the Luxembourg station to Libremont, a place I won’t mind if I never see again. We spent an hour in the Libremont station waiting for a bus that would take us onward to our next connection and on to Bastogne. This made us very late for our hotel checkin. Fortunately, the bus driver was kind and dropped us off at the hotel after finishing his route, and someone was still there when we arrived, so we were able to get our room. If we’d gotten there even five minutes later, we might have been out of luck. That would have sucked, as it was cold.

But a bit about Libremont. We spent an hour in a very sketch train station with a man who must have been homeless who stared at us almost nonstop and spoke and chuckled to himself off and on. He walked in and out, but would only stand still in the hallway when he left. He had nothing with him — no bag or cart of belongings — but simply stood in a corner. We felt very relieved that security personnel were popping in and out and that behind the shuttered cashier windows there were still people at work. What a relief to get out of there! The man was still there two days later when we came back through.

Bastogne was in the midst of its carnival — a holiday that is probably derived from Maundy Tuesday and Mardi Gras in some way but now which seems to focus on drinking. The streets were littered with confettie and plastic beer cups. (Why do people throw trash on the ground???) We made it to a Chinese restaurant that was just about to close, walking past the location of the celebration, bass pounding through the wind and rain.

I should add that my knee injury has been particularly hideous of late and that any and all walking was extremely painful for me, so hiking uphill to a restaurant through drunks, rain, and against the wind was not fun. But, hey, Easy Company, right? It felt right to be miserable and cold, because they were certainly both each and every day, and not because they were walking to a cozy restaurant.

A drunken argument broke out at the restaurant when a group of inebriated celebrants demanded more sake, a drunk walked in off the street and asked to use the restroom, and a group of diners stood up to defend the other drunks (and were probably drunk themselves). The proprietor denied the man who wanted to pee use of his restroom, saying it was for guests only. He slammed his fist down on the counter when the drunk persisted, causing the three drunks who wanted extra (free) sake to explode. They all left amid shouting, but as they did so guests at another table stood and started shouting, too, apparently attacking the proprietor for not being more genial about his toilet and sake supply.

Alcohol turns some people into idiots.

We made our way through staggering young people down the hill to our warm beds. The hotel was nice and warm, though the bathroom offered questionable privacy.

The next day we awoke to intense wind and a downpour. We got ready for our "Easy company" tour, enjoying a nice breakfast and coffee downstairs — I don't recall feeling jet lagged — only to have our guide, whom we paid 80 EU each, tell us that the tour couldn’t happen. The wind and rain were too much, he said, and the Bois Jacques, where “E’ company dug their fox holes, was off limits.

The look on my face must have been, “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” That’s certainly what I felt. I wanted to tell him that bad weather doesn’t make people from Colorado quit, but I held my tongue.

He told us he’d drive us to some of the places we wanted to see. He started with a historical marker and the history of the Battle of Bulge, where US troops were deployed in the area when the Germans made their surprise attack. That was interesting stuff, to be sure.

He was particularly focused on the role the 28th Infantry Division played in holding back the German onslaught until other forces could be brought in. He doesn't like the fact that “E” company is synonymous in most American’s minds when they think of the Battle of the Bulge but that the 28th division is largely forgotten.

Point well taken.

Most of the sites we visited were 28th division sites — the three roadblocks US troops put up to keep German forces from entering Bastogne. The rolling, peaceful hills didn’t seem like a place where so many lives could be lost, but, in fact, it was bloody fighting.

We appreciated the history lesson, though, to be honest, I began falling asleep in the back seat. All that driving made it hard to stay awake.

A word about the roads: Driving around Bastogne can feel disorienting. No matter where you are, there’s a road sign pointing in one direction or another to Bastogne, even when you think you’re in Batogne. Just ahead, “Bastogne, 2km,”  and then pointing the other way, “Bastogne, 5 km.” I told Benjamin it felt like the roadways had been modeled after a hairnet or something.

After lunch, the rain had stopped, and the wind had died down. Our guide drove us to the Bois Jacques, which was, indeed, closed. Unwilling to violate the closure, he parked and waited while Benjamin and I got out and explored.



There among the tall pines were foxholes dug by the men of “E” company 70 years earlier. They stretched the length of the forest, most no more than a couple of feet deep now, some holding water, others home to sodden leaves. I said a prayer for the men who fought and died here, names and faces in my mind. I couldn’t imaging living for a month in the middle of winter in a six-foot-deep hole under constant mortar bombardment, but that’s what they did.

It was here in the Bois Jacques amid these foxholes that Bill Guarnere lost his leg. It was here those brave men faced a nightmare few living today can imagine.

We walked from hole to hole, taking photos, talking about the contrast between the peacefulness of the forest and the violence that they faced here. Those men stand as heroes to all of us, and this was the ground that made them unforgettable.

It was surreal, very moving.

There’s a monument to the men from "E" company who were killed just down the road at the edge of the forest, not far from the road where one of the men of "E" company was shot and killed by a German sniper. The names of the “E” company men who fell in that forest and nearby are carved into stone on that monument.



It’s impossible to visit a place like this and not feel uneasy when you leave. You can’t lessen the suffering of those who endured hell. You can’t touch them the way their actions touch you. You cannot possible give to them what they gave to you, which is freedom.

After the Bois Jacques, our guide drove us to Foy, where we could see the position “E” company had when they liberated the town. It was amazing to stand there, see that line of forest, and know that right there was where Speirs made his crazy, heroic dash through German lines to link up “E” company with “I” company, and that over there among those trees was where Pinkala and Muck were obliterated in their foxhole by a shell, and this is where Winters commanded his men.

Our guide has some “then” photos to go with the places we stood in Foy, a way to “see” the historical picture even more.



We also saw a German panzer tank. To this day, that black cross strikes me as evil and ugly. The Nazis are one of the most sickening manifestations of evil the world has seen.

After our tour, we went back to the Chinese restaurant for dinner and then back to our hotel room, where we wanted to watch an episode of “Band of Brothers,” but were thwarted by Amazon’s regional distribution controls.

The next day, it was time to go back to France. With the train running, the return journey was much less difficult and creepy and much faster. We went back to The Goats, enjoyed a quiet evening with Bridget and Michel.

I took a stick from the Bois Jacques, a small piece of wood that has been polished by the weather. It is my only souvenir from this trip.

Rest in peace, heroes of “E” company. Rest in peace, forgotten heroes of the 28th Division.


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