But the push was contained and then stopped. After much fighting and dying on both sides, the weather cleared and U.S. air power took control of the skies.
That was the end of that little adventure. But it really wasn't a little adventure; to refer to it in that way demeans it. It was the stuff of history, the stuff of legend. It was the Battle of the Bulge.
Laura and I visited the area a couple of years back with the idea of peeking into whatever museums we could find and visiting, especially, the forest between Bastogne, on the south, which held the Americans, and the village of Foy, on the north, which held the Germans. That forest was where the 101st Airborne's Easy Company, now memorialized as "The Band of Brothers," fought at the very northern limit of Allied lines and held. This photo, which as always you can click on to enlarge, is a memorial to Easy Company.
The central part of Bastogne is little changed, though on its fringes the town has expanded with modern construction. Foy, on the other hand, a tiny place, showed little sign of post-war development. (And by the way, you can visit this region yourself, and these places, on Google Earth.)
I have no idea what that forest was like then, but today it's a farmed lot, a place where farmers grows trees in neat rows. So it's extremely unlikely, it seems to me, that any of the trees there today are old enough to have witnessed the battle that took place there so long ago. Still, it's interesting, and very evocative, to walk this wood, listening to the pristine silence, pondering depressions in the soil and wondering if those depressions - Laura is sitting in one of them here - were foxholes, or shell holes, or just places where a tree stump was ripped from the soil.
They are perhaps a little bit of all those things, I suspect.
Bastogne is home to several museums that display the usual artifacts of war, including weapons, shell casings, helmets, uniforms, and so on. What makes them interesting is that this stuff, this effluvia of violence, continues to be dug up by farmers tilling their fields.
As you might expect, there are monuments everywhere. And also equipment. We found several nicely restored tanks, including a Sherman, parked in Bastogne's main square, with a thundering shell hole right through it.
And out in the countryside there's an especially poignant cemetery containing the last resting places of hundreds of German soldiers, patriots on the wrong side of an ugly, losing cause.
It's a place of blood, noise, courage, misery and determination. Today the countryside is peaceful, with nothing more falling on one's ear than the lowing of cattle and the racket of farm tractors.
But once upon a time, here at this place, a few good men said no to tyranny and hate. And they backed it up with blood and steel. We all are in their debt.