By guest writer Allan D. Kissam – allankissam.com
|If you are a Boomer born after World War II, as a child there was an awareness of huge sacrifices made by the adults around you. We had it good in 1950’s America, but it was a good world they had created. They survived the preceding bad years, through deprivation in Depression, and blood-letting by war brought on to them. Crowning it off was a final accomplishment of building much of what is enjoyed today in the USA. Roads, airports, colleges, GI Bill, and an awareness of civil rights.
As we children visited with family on holidays, the adult discussion often cited people from times past. People they once knew who did their duty or survived events; at Okinawa, or D-Day, or remembrances of where they were on learning of the Pearl Harbor attack. The tenseness never left them, but the talk was always upbeat, like it was good times. It was their youth, after all. If asking them too personal of a question about these “good times”, one could make a grown man go silent or leave the room in anguish.
This is the basis of so much interest in war while also enjoying one of the most beautiful passages in the world. I knew when booking this river cruise the history and events touching my times. I had seen it on films. It would have to be part of the more beautiful aspects of the region.
Viking River Cruise
|Aboard the Viking River Cruises ship on its Rhine Getaway package, the riverbanks looked cold alongside in December. Picturesque countryside flowed past with the endless waters. There were many planned shore excursions for the days ahead. Shopping, restaurants, Medieval places, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Somehow, having watched too much history on television, I couldn’t help but imagine everything outside the windows in ruins from 1944 air bombardment and artillery duels. On my mind were cold and exhausted ghosts of American GI’s sharing the popular refrain ‘Home Alive in 45’.Before launching World War 2, German dictator Adolf Hitler often cruised in relaxation on these same waters from Koblenz (a Viking stop) on to Bad Godesberg, near Bonn. Or, Hitler may have ordered a nice drive through the vineyard regions between Mainz and Cologne (another Viking stop). Alongside the river, we passed Rheinhotel Dreesen, at Bad Godesberg, where Hitler had special bullet-proofed rooms and met with British PM Chamberlain in September, 1938. The agreements reached at the hotel resulted in Chamberlain declaring soon thereafter, “Peace for Our Time”.|
Audie L. Murphy, Medal of Honor
|One American veteran of the failed peace was Audie L. Murphy, combat hero and later movie star, who earned his Medal of Honor near Colmar, France. Viking organized a guided tour to see the battle areas for the Colmar Pocket that occurred in December of 1944. Once we were familiar with the critical situation as the Germans counterattacked, we saw where Audie Murphy called in artillery fire and stood atop a burning tank to shoot and delay advancing Germans.
Audie Murphy received every available US Army and American military decoration for valor. He was also highly decorated by both France and Belgium.
French locals have renamed Colmar streets “The Americans”, “Audie L. Murphy”, and after other heros. It impressed me that the people today really understood the struggle and still celebrate regaining freedom at annual public events. Residents in 1940 suffered greatly as Hitler annexed the Colmar region. Hitler ordered the last ditch defense of the proclaimed German territory – retreat, or attempted surrender, could get one shot by the fanatical SS.
|See the local museum of World War II in Colmar. It has excellent display of weapons, uniforms, and artifacts.|
|As the ship progressed on the Rhine River, we passed by Remagen where the first intact bridge over the Rhine was captured to begin the flood of armies into the heart of Germany. The stop for touring of Koblenz, a longtime fortification on the river, was once the Headquarters of German Army Group B.|
|Arriving in Cologne to see the massive cathedral there, we also enjoyed German cooking at local beer halls and outdoor markets. Walking around the markets the fun included a grilled German bratwurst with a cold beer.
A quick search of the internet found the cathedral was the site of unique combat action photography. American Sherman light tanks unexpectedly engaged a medium German Panther tank lurking outside the cathedral. The Panther then rotated its gun tube to its right and awaited American reinforcements. Documented discussion with the participants, both German and American, suggest that the heavier American Pershing M26 tank’s profile view was unfamiliar and caused a fatal hesitation in the German gunner. The German now waited for the American to stop for firing. Instead, unusual for the aiming accuracy of the times, the American gunner shot on the move and hit with its first round.
Today, where the German tank burned, is a McDonalds. It is somewhat surreal, all these tourists and young people with cell phones milling around the area. This is where soldiers died at about their same age and with only a month of war remaining. These dead were possibly friends of the old people coming around on holidays, or were known to the old tourist-soldiers from World War 2. Those lucky to have made it home alive in 1945.
|God Bless the Brave US Soldiers of World War 2
Warning: The following video contains violent combat action. American soldiers and German soldiers will die.