If you ask me, it started off on the wrong foot. It was so hot out, and we intended to beat the heat with an early start. We had too much to do though, and by the time we arrived in the small town of Vossenack just inside the German border, it already pushed the lunch hour. The sun walloped on us without mercy. We walked through the quiet streets in search of the trail head. We noticed that there wasn’t a single building older than 1950. An ominous sign…
It was Kall Trail that we had come for – a winding foot path that would take us through the formidable Hurtgen Forest. The map described the trail as “strenuous,” but we didn’t bat an eye. My husband and I are both very avid and experienced hikers. So, even though it was hot, and we were down to one small bottle of water, we threw the dice. We started down the Kall Trail and entered “the Green Hell.”
We were far from the first Americans to give that trail a whirl. In September of 1944, multiple divisions of the United States Army moved into the woods to secure the nearby town of Schmidt and capture the Roer River Dams. They also wanted to keep the Germans there busy while other American troops attacked at Aachen near the Siegfried Line. It would be a quick mission that they thought would last a few weeks. Instead, it became the longest battle fought on German soil during World War II.
It was a hot afternoon in the small town of Ypres, Belgium. My husband and I had spent the whole day running around the surrounding countryside and visiting World War I battle sites. There was plenty to see too. The First World War was devastating for Ypres and nearby Flanders Fields. The town was smashed to pieces, the ground was ripped up for miles, and the soil was filled with hundreds of thousands of dead. It was so bad that a hundred years later, the scars still remain. We walked through a good many graveyards that were filled with seas of white stones. About one in five actually had names on them. The rest were marked with the tragic words, “known unto God.” We stood inside the Menin Gate, a huge memorial that is covered with over 60,000 names of the missing soldiers from Flanders Fields. We hiked through fields and woods that still bore very visible remnants of the trenches and shell craters. Some bunkers were still there, including the bunkers where a broken-hearted Canadian doctor penned one of the most famous poems in military history, “In Flanders Fields.” His words captured the horrors of war so well that a century later, the poppy is still associated with this terrible conflict and all the lives it stole from us. Indeed, it had been a heart-wrenching, albeit powerful, day.
Well, we’re home. The adventure is over. It was so amazing that I’m still processing a lot of it. I saw places with my own eyes that I’ve read about and written about for over a decade. I ran my fingers through the sand at Omaha Beach and Sword Beach. I wove through a real trench from the WWI Ypres Salient that was once surrounded by shell craters and mud, but it is now surrounded by a bustling, modern-day city. I stood on 100-year-old battlefields that still bore scars I could both see with my eyes and feel with my heart. I navigated the chilled caves of Fort Douaumont where French soldiers withstood unimaginable bombardments and lost thousands of soldiers in the First World War. I stood at the mole on Dunkirk Beach that was once mobbed by 330,000 desperate soldiers trying to cross the English channel. I walked through beautiful cities across Europe and heard their bell towers chime. I stood atop the highest peak in Germany, and I also beheld the gorgeous summit of Switzerland’s Titlis Mountain. I took a picture on the same stairs where the Von Trapp children learned Do-Re-Mi. I walked down the vast aisles of churches that were hundreds of years old and heard their massive pipe organs echo. I met and spoke with people from all over the world, some of them I even stumbled my way through in French or German. I walked across Pegasus Bridge both the original and the new. I stood in graveyards that had seas of stones and wept for people I never knew but somehow feel so connected with despite the years of time between us. I saw way too many graves marked with the words “Known Unto God.” I hiked through the heat but also froze in the snow. I ate so much Belgian chocolate I got sick to my stomach, and I also had no regrets about it. I paid homage to a dearly departed friend by finding the tiny town in Belgium where he fought in WWII. I stepped up in ways I didn’t know I could at times, and crumbled with exhaustion at other times. Then, I sat bedraggled and frustrated for two days at an airport terminal in London and could only think of one thing. Home. I learned so much about the world and myself, and I cannot wait for the next big adventure. Read More
The story of Joshua Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, and their heroic stand on Little Round Top is one of the most famous from the battle of Gettysburg. While entire books have been written on the subject, a basic summary is this. On the burning hot day of July 2, 1863, the second day of fighting between Lee and Meade at Gettysburg, the slopes outside of town dubbed “the Round Tops” came to the attention of Union General Gouverneur Warren (pictured below). At that time, he was the Chief Topographical Engineer for the Union Army. He immediately realized the value of these tree-covered slopes in that they overlooked the entire battlefield. Whoever possessed them would have the ultimate advantage. Union troops were rushed to the slopes to keep them out of Confederate hands.
Welcome back to the Poetry Break and the poem epic that I fell way behind on posting! I do apologize to those of you who were waiting for the next segment. I kept getting distracted with new finds and historical places that I was excited to write about, which I suppose is a good thing. To those of you just tuning in, this is the latest segment of a 21 part poem epic that I wrote a few months back (you may find links to an intro for the series and the previous segments below). I hope you enjoy this segment about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Once upon a boring Saturday, my husband and I retreated to the Echo Mountain hiking trail located in Alta Dena, California. Like most trails around here, it was a good workout, and the views were staggering. Then there was the summit, and I didn’t just love it for the view. I’ve always believed that somehow, the history finds me. True to form, when I wasn’t even looking for it, I stumbled on some amazing history on that mountain top. Right there were the remains of a California mechanical marvel known as the “Railway in the Clouds,” or, the Mt. Lowe Railway.
Do you ever wonder what it’s like to go back in time? I think about it a lot, as I’m sure many history enthusiasts do. Over the years, I have accepted that physical time travel might not happen. But fear not, I have found another way. Because there are places where the past comes to me. Ancient ruins, battlefields, preserved monuments – places like these are time portals. When you go there, all it takes is imagination, and you can move about on the timeline. One of these time portals is the Tumacacori National Historical Site near Tucson, Arizona.
The history of this place goes way back in time to hundreds of years ago. Back then, the Santa Cruz Valley was inhabited only by the O’odham Native American tribe. They lived peaceful lives of hunting, gathering, and farming. They grew beans, squash, corn, and had their own irrigation system to fuel the crops in the hostile desert climate. Their homes were made of bent branches covered in mud. Conflicts with neighboring tribes flared up once in a while, but most gatherings by the O’odham were peaceful and resulted in dancing, feasting, and spiritual rituals to celebrate nature.
In 2016, a life-long dream came true when I visited Northern Ireland. I had always wanted to see the sprawling green countryside, the charming cities, and the beautiful ocean views. I was also excited to soak up the history and culture of Belfast. My travel buddy booked us a cab tour so we could learn it all in the comfort of a nice car. The next morning, we were picked up by Patrick – our friendly Belfast Tours guide. As the tour began, I quickly realized this wasn’t a typical tour of historic buildings and local hot spots. Patrick instead steered us through a series of violent events in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.” The Troubles? Just when I think I can call myself a history buff, there’s this whole other battle going on. And believe me, it was a battle. Since that tour of Belfast, I have struggled to get a grip on the Troubles. I think anyone who knows about them can agree it’s a complicated subject. But here are the basics, or at least the basics that I can wrap my head around.
As promised, here is another portion of the 21-segment poem epic I wrote recently. The segments are divided into three parts, and this is the second segment of Part I. Part I covers many different angles and viewpoints of World War II.
I hope you enjoy -and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!
LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED
PART I – SEGMENT 2
It was a daring move, a stroke so bold
We thought the victory would be pure as gold
But it was just one of Hitler’s many lies
When we went into Russia, we got a surprise
In the year 1861, a man named Wilmer McLean owned a farm in the beautiful countryside of Virginia. It was a charming home that he shared with his family, and the grounds were situated along a bubbling creek called Bull Run. All was well… until the bloodiest war in American history opened right in his front yard. As the first shots opened at Manassas, the armies poured in and McLean’s tranquil home fast descended into chaos. It was taken over as Confederate Headquarters by General P.G.T. Beauregard. Masses of uniformed men hurried about, barked orders, and trampled his parlor apart. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was also in close range of the Union guns. A shell crashed through one of his windows and thudded into the dining room. Luckily, no one was hurt. Still, the whole experience left McLean shaken to the core. Terrified for his family’s safety, he vacated the Bull Run farm. He would take his loved ones into the country– “where the sound of battle would never reach them.” He found what he wanted in the sleepy town of Appomattox. It was two miles from the nearest railroad, had no supplies or armaments factories, and had nothing else to give it any military value. Surely, on the tranquil hillsides there, he had found the perfect safe haven. He moved his family into a lovely manor in the middle of town and started a life free from the guns of war.