Visitors experience history in Bastogne
By Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 18, 2012
BASTOGNE, Belgium --
The distant sound of Bing Crosby's "I'll Be Seeing You" plays through a speaker from the barracks and resonates in the town square.
Two U.S. Soldiers chit chat as they enjoy cigarettes on this cold, misty December morning.
A convoy of supply trucks slowly approaches the two men. As the old diesel engines roar past, a dark cloud of exhaust engulfs them, and Crosby's 1944 hit single is drowned out by the machines' clamor.
Visitors from around the world swarmed the small town Dec. 15-16 as part of the 35th Bastogne Historic Walk, and many traded their modern-era clothing for the olive-drab garb that U.S. troops wore there 68 years ago.
Helmets, uniforms and rifles may have been common in the small Belgian town in 1944, but now it is limited to one weekend a year in December. During this weekend, it is not uncommon to see an old jeep park next to a car from today and four GIs hop out and walk into the supermarket.
Many of these reenactors live in the area that was once the battleground of the Battle of the Bulge, but some come from as far away as Austria and Ireland to remember the sacrifices that U.S. forces made to free countries like France, Belgium and Luxembourg from German occupation.
Luca Masceullo, who travelled from Rome to walk the U.S. defensive perimeter around the besieged town, wears a replica uniform as a way to live history for himself and share the experience with others.
"We love history, and for us, once you have all the information you can find in books, it can be interesting to go to the proper place and try and experience something," he said. "You can read whatever you want, but once you get your feet in the mud or in the snow, maybe just for one day you can almost try to understand what the soldiers experienced."
Many of these people spend their own money to purchase equipment, boots and weapons for events like this. Sometimes, they even make items themselves to help create a more authenticate experience.
As visitors walked along the perimeter, reenactors lined the paths; some huddled in freshly-dug foxholes, and others sat outside government-issue tents and lit small fires to warm themselves.
Some Soldiers had every detail spot-on. One Soldier carried imitation Mk 2 "pineapple" grenades, a Colt M1911 hand gun and proudly wore the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division "Screamin' Eagles" patch on his sleeve.
Masceullo carries the same equipment that Soldiers carried during this historic battle: soap, food and magazines. It helps him better understand the struggles the Soldiers went through.
"When you find yourself face-to-face with a veteran, he can point at your uniform and ask, 'How did you earn those badges?' It makes you feel insignificant," he said. "That's why we try to get everything exactly how it would have been when they wore the same uniform. They went through hell, and the least we can do is try to be an accurate representation of them as they fought here."
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are only 1.4 million surviving veterans of the more than 16 million that served during World War II, with many living veterans reaching 90 or 100 years old. This dwindling number of veterans from America's "Greatest Generation" brings a lot of questions of uncertainty for history fanatics like Masceullo, fearing that people will forget these great men and women who served.
For Masceullo, he will continue to share the legacy of these brave warriors to anybody who wants to learn.
"Everything is going to be lost in a few years as soon as the last veteran passes away," he said. "Who is going to share their history?"