Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15--"Epilogue"


It has been our greatest pleasure to be able to provide and facilitate the many experiences written about in this blog. Parents, be proud of these fine young students! Their intense interest in the numerous subject matters discussed, their love of our veterans and their willingness to open their hearts and minds to new cultures and ideas was a joy to witness. America is safe in the hands of this next generation. It is our sincere wish that the experiences shared during these momentous two weeks will remain with them throughout their lives.

Cristy and Ray Pfeiffer - Tour Directors
Historic Tours, Inc.

Many thanks to our driver who took us on our journey, Alain.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 14—“All good things must come to an end”


After thirteen days and five countries, many hours in the air and nearly 2,000 miles on our bus, twenty C of O students and five WWII veterans have formed a unique bond. Memories have been made, tears shed, stories told and life changing moments have been made, but our trip is coming to an end.

We spent today in Munich relaxing, sightseeing and enjoying lunch at the Hofbrauhaus, where veteran Mr. Ralph Manley provided us with the best evidence yet that our world has changed for the better over the last 65 years—an American paratrooper dancing to Polka music with a Japanese woman in a German restaurant!

We wanted to take the time today to say “Thanks” once again to our five brave men who fought not only for America, but for freedom everywhere. We have had the pleasure and honor over the last two weeks to gain firsthand knowledge from them. None of us will ever forget the memories we have made. It was the trip of a lifetime. We were able to travel to some of the great WWII battle fields, such as the beaches of Normandy and the Ardennes forest at Bastogne. We have learned so much because of our tour directors and veterans, who have been a treasure trove of information and feeling. History books can tell you the facts, but not the raw emotions, how war smelled and sounded. These men are so nice and loving even though they withstood the horrors of war. They are true heroes and we should never stop honoring or thanking them for protecting our world. Mr. Alvin Henderson told us that he gave everything for us and seeing the college students on this trip proved to him that it was not a waste of his life.

Our bags are packed and we are heading home soon, with excitement to return to campus yet sadness to leave Mr. John Cipolla, Mr. Wilson Colwell, Mr. Alvin Henderson, Mr. Ralph Manley and Mr. Albert Schultz. But they will forever be in our hearts and prayers. We salute you, our WWII veterans.

Amber Williamson and Michael Schoonover

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13—“ Climb Every Mountain”


Today we visited Berchtesgaden and Kehlsteinhaus (Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest”) in southern Germany, near the Austrian border. The day was supposed to be clear, but a dense fog blanketed the morning sky. As the bus wound its way up the steep mountainside, the beauty of our surroundings was magnificent. When we arrived at the Eagle’s Nest, the fog was so thick over the Alps that it appeared as though one could walk from one mountaintop to the next. It is no wonder that Hitler chose this place for some of his official meetings.

Eagle’s Nest is also a particularly special place for one of our veterans, Mr. John Cipolla. Along with his company in May of 1945, he marched a day and a half up Kehlstein Mountain to Hitler’s headquarters. Mr. Cipolla shared how he went into Hitler’s office and made himself comfortable in the former dictator’s chair. The company commander walked in to the sight of SGT Cipolla’s feet on the desk, relaxing and having a grand time. He was told quite clearly to get his feet off that desk and to get out of the chair! According to Mr. Cipolla, the Allies did not need any of Hitler’s persona to rub off on them. Today, Mr. Cipolla was able to sit in the same room he was in sixty-five years ago, but this time he was enjoying a lunch of goulash soup.

The magnificence of the Alps was astounding. A person cannot stand approximately seven thousand feet above sea level without thinking of God’s great creation. Yet we were standing in the midst of Adolph Hitler’s mountaintop retreat. Sister Irmengard reminded us yesterday that we must not take depression and despair from sad surroundings. Rather, we must take hope; hope for the future and Eternal Life. This is what our veterans have done. They continually tell us their reflections of World War II, and then they see the students and know their efforts and sacrifices were not in vain. As Mr. Cipolla said, “Do not focus on the bad things. Put them out of your mind and continue having a good time like we have been.”

It is also important to give Cristy and Ray Pfeiffer, our tour guides, the recognition they deserve. A great deal of careful planning and hard work went into our trip. Our time in Europe has been laid out masterfully with almost every minute full of adventure, fun, and history. We all appreciate their generous and caring spirits and the obvious dedication to their job. Finally, our thanks would not be complete without mention of Alain, our expert bus driver. His dry yet playful sense of humor will be definitely missed as our trip nears the end.

Melissa Roach and Jessica Rose

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12—“Arbeit Macht Frei”


Today was our visit to Dachau concentration camp. When we arrived we couldn’t see the camp right away. We came up to a large building with a gateway tunnel under the 2nd story. In twisted metal were the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “work makes you free” in German. This was a torturous joke played by the Germans upon the prisoners. The fact was that it didn’t matter how hard you worked, it would not set you free.

As a group, we went through the black iron gate. The moment I entered the camp I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. This place was real. After a brief prayer, everyone placed flowers at the memorial wall that had the dates 1933-1945. We walked through the museum where pictures and description of living conditions were posted. Next we walked through replication barracks. They were built originally to hold 200 prisoners; by the end of the war, 2,000 were crammed into each building.
On the other side of camp was the crematorium. The ovens for cremation were still intact…and open. It felt difficult to breathe as I looked into the dark spaces where so many bodies were burned. In 1945 the 101st airborne more or less “stumbled” upon the camps. Mr. Wilson Coldwell entered Dachau with his company in total shock. He explained that you couldn’t believe something this horrible existed unless you saw it yourself. He described the greeting from the prisoners. They were hungry; they were frail; they were barely holding on to life and yet so overjoyed to see their American liberators.

Near the end of our day, we walked outside the walls of Dachau where we listened to Sister Irmengard Schuster and the sisters of the convent sing their prayer chants. It provided time for reflection and prayer. Seeing the pictures of frail, almost lifeless bodies was haunting. How was it to actually see it with your own eyes? Mr. Colwell says he carries the images with him every day. It’s something he can’t forget. I think about today and I am so incredibly grateful for the free life I live. I live freely, not in fear of losing my life. I walk in joy because of Christ and what he has given me . . . my life.

Allison Press

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 11—“All Gave Some and Some Gave All”


Today was a driving day from Eindhoven, Netherlands to Stuttgart, Germany. It was a seven hour drive so I had a lot of time to reflect on the trip. To me, the most important thing I have learned so far is that our veterans do not get the respect they deserve in the United States.

The people of the European Union honor our veterans, and all veterans, as their saviors. These men, many of whom were younger than I am today, left their homes and families and accepted the call of duty, liberating hundreds of European cities. With this responsibility they saw their friends, brothers, and comrades killed. They dealt with not only death, but harsh conditions.

When one visits WWII battle sites, it is impossible to miss how the Europeans place our veterans on a pedestal. For dinner one night, our veterans decided to eat in our hotel. Complete strangers paid for their meals as a small token of their appreciation. It saddened me to see this because I know this rarely happens in the United States. I don’t think it is because we are rude or insensitive; I just think most Americans take our freedom for granted because we were never occupied by the Germans.

As Americans, we should treat our veterans as heroes. Without them and their dedicated service, our history would be very different. What have I learned so far? It is important to remember that “All gave some and some gave all” for the freedom that we enjoy today.

Renee Hinkebein

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 10, 2010--“Trooper, grab that end!” – Stories of September


photos by alec vanderboom

Today we stepped into September of 1944. We spent the day following the footsteps of the 101st Airborne’s “Market Garden” operation. We had two Dutch experts on the 101st travel with us and give us an in-depth history of the operation. These men, along with the veterans’ experiences, gave us a full view of the fighting that went on in this now peaceful land.

Mr. Bill Colwell was sixteen years old when he jumped into the Netherlands in Operation Market Garden. At the age when most American kids have just gotten their drivers’ licenses, Mr. Colwell was manning machine guns and following his commanding officers into extreme conditions. He had his machine gun trained on German snipers when his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Cole, ran by and yelled out to him, “Trooper, grab that end!” Mr. Colwell obeyed and grabbed the other side of the sun panel that was to be a marker for the Allied planes. Moments after the two placed the panel, Mr. Colwell witnessed LTC Cole’s death by a bullet of a German sniper. Cole was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in combat.

Erwin, one of our wonderful Dutch experts, spent time researching the details of Mr. Alvin Henderson’s platoon, and he actually found the spot where Mr. Henderson was taken captive during Market Garden. We drove to that spot earlier today, and as Mr. Henderson looked over the calm, green fields, he told us the story of his capture. His platoon leader sent Mr. Henderson and two other men to scout the area, and while on this mission, one of the troopers was shot. The other trooper ran back to the rest of the platoon, but Mr. Henderson stayed with his wounded comrade. He ripped open his buddy’s pant-leg to check the wound and gave him a shot of morphine for the pain. Mr. Henderson said he looked up and saw a funny look on his buddy’s face. When he turned around, he saw a German soldier pointing a gun at the two of them. Mr. Henderson believes that his life was spared because he followed the motto, “Never leave a man behind” and went back for his fellow paratrooper.

Mr. Henderson survived to tell the story, but the other soldier later died of gangrene in the POW camp. As for that third trooper, he went back to base and told his platoon that the two troopers had been killed by the Germans. Mr. Henderson discovered this when he attended a reunion of the 101st, and no one there recognized him. When he told them his name, shocked faces looked back at him because they thought he had died during Market Garden. At the end of his story, Mr. Henderson spoke about having a clear conscience about the incident. He said, “Everyday when I shave, I can look in the mirror and know I did what I was supposed to do.”

We ended the day at “Coffin Corner,” and Mr. John Cipolla shared an incredible story of God’s Providence. Mr. Cipolla and a buddy were out on a dike, and his buddy was “messing around” trying to discover how to fire a recently discovered British weapon when it accidentally discharged. The two men looked up and saw that the shot hit and disabled a German tank, and effectively stalled the two tanks following it down the narrow dike road. While they were stalled, John and the other trooper ran around and took out the remaining tanks.

These stories are just a small percentage of what these men have shared with us in the short time we’ve been travelling with them. The brave actions of all our veterans help us realize the true sacrifice of those who fought in World War II. With each new story, we realize more and more the importance of sharing these stories with future generations so that as Tom, our other Dutch expert said, “We don’t forget.”

Kiley Jurgena and Emma Martin

Saturday, October 9, 2010

October 9—"Those Who Did Not Make It Back"


photos by alec vanderboom

We left Bastogne this morning and headed to the Henri Chapelle cemetery in Belgium where 7989 American servicemen are buried and 450 servicemen’s names are listed on the wall of the missing. Our veterans participated in a wreath laying and everyone saluted the flag as our eyes gazed across a field of white crosses, with the National Anthem and Taps playing in the background. We then took the time to walk among the markers and pay our respects. The sun was shining very brightly, but the mood was solemn and somewhat heavy, yet peaceful. After we left the cemetery, we crossed the border into the Netherlands and visited the Netherlands American Cemetery where 8302 servicemen are laid to rest. We paused for a few moments in the memorial chapel for a student-led devotion to honor the veterans and to turn our attention to the faithfulness of God. We ended the day in Eindhoven where we will be staying tonight and tomorrow night.

While at the Henri Chapelle cemetery the veterans discussed their wartime experiences. They talked of the atrocities of the concentration camps and the horrors that went along with them. As they relived these hard times, they looked up and told us, “At times I didn’t know why I put myself through such things, but when I look at you kids, I know we did the right thing; you are the future….” It gives us great determination to think that these men who have sacrificed so much to keep America free look to us and see future leaders. They gave their all for us and we must give our all for them, that their sacrifices will not go unrewarded and let the gifts they have given us slip through our fingers. We are so proud of these great men and proud to be at their sides.

As thankful as we are to the veterans, there is still a lesson to be learned from the people we have encountered along the trip. At one point in our day, we stopped at a memorial which honored the first American soldier to be killed in the Allied offensive in the Netherlands on September 12, 1944. We were touched that the people of the Netherlands were so thankful to the Americans for liberating them from the Nazis. Over and over, through all of the regions in Europe we have traveled, the veterans have been honored and thanked, even with tears at times. Reflecting upon all the gratitude our veterans have received, we students have begun to question why more honor is not given to these men and women in our own country. It is more apparent than ever that it is our duty to carry on these men’s legacies to the best of our abilities and ensure that their actions and lives are not forgotten. Witnessing these places where our freedom was won by blood has challenged us; we have a responsibility not only to carry on the legacy of the veterans we are traveling with, but also to make the most of our “expensive freedom” by living our lives in honor of our American and Christian heritage.

Doug Melton and JaMarie McElvain