MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2010: Fouron-le-Comte, Belgium, to Alpen, Germany
As the Battle of the Bulge was being fought nearby, the 118th spent the harshest part of the winter of 1945 in the Ardennes, first in Spa, where they took advantage of the "world famous mineral baths with the health-giving sulphur in the water," then in Harze, "where the people are very hospitable and anxious to make our stay comfortable," and then Bra, where "we had more snow than ever before, about a foot."
4 February 1945: We moved in open trucks through a driving rainstorm, through Verviers and the mountains of Belgium, and finally came, wet and cold, to Aachen, Germany. In this formerly beautiful city of several hundred thousand inhabitants, sulphur baths, and beautiful cathedrals, not even a single building had escaped destruction or damage. We were assigned a three-story school building that had been seriously damaged by bombs and shells, located only a half block from the famous cathedral where Charlemagne and 31 other German kings had been crowned.
As we wend our way from Fouron-le-Comte to Aachen, the nav scores again, sending us up a paved hill-climb through the woods at Gemmenich, Belgium, to "Trois Frontieres," the confluence of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. To celebrate the fact that these three countries now reside cheek-by-jowl in harmony, I make a few runs up and down the hill in the CTS-V. Turning off the stability control and lighting up the tires in the hairpins, I'm reminded that 551 lb-ft of torque is never a bad thing.
As we head into Aachen, Martyn warns Greg that "you're now representing a conquering army, not a liberating army," but that doesn't deter my chatty brother from trying to find people who were here when the Allied bombs fell. At a sidewalk cafe next to the cathedral, he strikes up a conversation with Carole Steber, a Texan by birth who has lived in Aachen since 1963. She cheerfully volunteers to be our tour guide and leads us to a nearby school that we think might be the one where RJD had an office. I tell Carole that we're tracking his journey through Europe in a Cadillac. "I moved to Munich in 1955 with my family," she recalls, "because my father was a periodontist in the military, and he brought along his big white Cadillac with fins. We didn't realize it wasn't the right kind of car for Germany. Imagine that Cadillac in Munich traffic!"