I’m just returning from a very intensive media trip to Belgium hosted by Liberation Route Europe where I learned much about the history of WWII and the Battle of the Bulge as seen by those who experienced it firsthand. As a lifestyle and family travel blogger and also a veteran myself, I was intrigued and at first thought up a few angles on how to formulate this story.
While at the conference, I messaged my eldest child, asking “What do you know about WWII and the Battle of the Bulge?”, To which she responded, “It was a war, but it’s no longer relevant to life.” You couldn’t begin to imagine my disbelief. Upon my return, I asked both of my sons (ages 18, 14) what they knew, and they knew absolutely nothing! I have to admit that I didn’t know much either until this trip, besides it being a war and the Germans losing. I had entirely no idea about the sacrifices that we made on the American front and how difficult it was for everyone, not just the Jews. So how do you introduce something as complex as WWII and the Battle of the Bulge to children?
There are many books dedicated to the war, with many giving a first-hand view of what indeed took place. One such book I found while visiting Bastogne was the book by Henri Castor, “Bastogne and it’s American Heroes.” It’s photographic documentation done in extensive detail that shows the courage of our American soldiers fighting in the great Battle of the Bulge, from December 16, 1944, through January 1945. I happened to pick this up at the Bastogne War Museum, a must-see.
There’s a famous quote:
It’s better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.
Visit the Country
What better way to visit a new country than by taking a historical journey? It’s why I enjoy taking field trips. While we mostly travel and do the “touristy” side of things, an introduction to something as historical as WWII, something that changed the world “literally,” The Battle of the Bulge happened in the Netherlands. Begin your journey in Belgium and traverse through the very villages that our soldiers marched through on their way to the Ardennes Forest (aka Jack’s Wood).
Visit War Cemeteries & Memorials
To understand the art of war, you’ve also got to understand the sacrifices that were made; most of them were the ultimate sacrifice, which was their lives. While you can certainly read about it, nothing beats seeing the damage done in person by going to a cemetery or memorial. Memorials can be an early introduction for those too young to understand a war documentary or a textbook and a way to highlight why there are so many crosses in a cemetery.
Listen to a First-Hand Source
While most of those who fought in the Battle of the Bulge may be gone, there are still many who are alive and can give you first-hand knowledge of the war. The war didn’t just affect soldiers but their families and friends as well, and there are many who didn’t actively fight or have family members who fought whose lives were also changed by this horrible event. Many of these were young children when the war happened, so hearing their experience can really solidify what war does to everyone. From losing their homes and surviving on unconsumable bread or soup because rations were low. It’s only something that our own kids can imagine.
Take Them to a War Museum
Visiting a war museum doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Field trips are great experiences that help your child understand what truly happened. A guided excursion through the museum or even one where you can touch the relics is also a great way to “experience” the battle.
Watch a Documentary or Movie
While movies don’t exactly give you the full picture of what actually happened at the Battle of the Bulge, as most are done for entertainment, there are a few that do. I prefer a documentary, as they are more in line with what truly happened. Many documentaries feature the Battle of the Bulge; my favorite is Battle for the Bulge which can be seen on Amazon Prime Video. It includes authentic historical footage and a retelling of the battle that is very easily understood.
Take The Liberation Route Europe
What is Liberation Route Europe? The Liberation Route is a route that takes you to sites that played vital roles in WWII in eight different countries around Europe. You get the chance to discover and experience the route that the Allied Forces took during that final phase of the war. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to visit several museums, memorial sites, monuments, and war cemeteries. Starting in South England, you will journey through France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Holland. From there, you can continue your journey to Germany, Poland, or Italy.
There is currently an app that you can download where you can listen to audio stories from characters that tell you about the historical events that played out where you were standing during that epic battle of WWII.