Live in a European country for a while. Learn enough of their language to get by and drive on their streets. Listen to their radio, watch their television shows, visit their markets, shop where they shop, and learn their currency. Live in an apartment in their cities, ride their trains and buses, eat in their restaurants and cafes, and make your own dinner with their stoves and ovens with their staples. Immerse yourself in their daily routine.
Then, visit an American cemetery in Europe. See the thousands buried there who died freeing a continent from tyranny. Then see the flag of your country flying high above them.
That’s what we did.
In the fall of 2001, my wife and I lived in Germany for more than four months. We visited six countries while there, saw countless breathtaking sights, enjoyed a wonderful variety of food, and learned why Europe truly is, "the old country."
During one particular weekend outing, we visited Belgium and Luxembourg, two nations that became scenes of history during World War II’s final months.
In 1944, U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s armies liberated Bastogne from the Axis powers. But late in the year, Germany launched a massive counterattack, strategically positioning their forces in the Ardennes Forest and mountain regions. This offensive created a huge bulge in the Allied lines, allowing Germany to lay siege to McAuliffe’s troops.
McAuliffe also faced another enemy: bitter December weather that made airborne relief supplies impossible. Virtually surrounded, McAuliffe was asked by the opposing German commander to surrender. Today, his answer is almost universally known as the ultimate defiance in the face of overwhelming odds and defeat: “Nuts.”
U.S. Gen. George Patton relieved McAuliffe before his command was defeated. Then, the rest of the Allied invasion not only repelled repeated German counterattacks but continued their march toward Germany and the defeat of the Third Reich.
Today, Patton and 5,000 American troops who died during the Battle of the Bulge are buried just outside of Luxembourg City, in the American National Military Cemetery. While Patton actually met his fate after the war was over, he rests at the front of the burial ground, symbolically leading his men even in death.
Our schools teach us the American Revolution ended when Cornwallis and his British troops surrendered at Yorktown, VA, more than 200 years ago. But witnessing the role of American involvement in the liberation and reconstruction of an entire continent on the other side of the planet brings the realization that our nation’s revolutionary path continues today.
Our duty remains a constant vigil over our founding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, lest they become lost in the dust of history’s discarded wisdoms.