Hello readers! Space is still available on the World War 1 Historical Association’s June 2017 Pilgrimage to the Western Front, but the deadline for reserving your seat is December 31, 2016! So don’t put off your decision-making too long; and please share this post with your friends who might be interested in the tour!! Details can be found at this website: http://ww1ha.org/2017-ww1-battlefield-pilgrimage/.
Tour Guide’s Skill Set
This tour is being led by webmaster Randal Gaulke. Many readers know that Randal has been travelling to the American battlefields of France almost annually since 1986. In planning the 2017 tour he has been working with Paul Guthrie and John Snow, both directors of the WW1HA, to plan the tour. Paul has organized / overseen seven tours for the WW1HA and its predecessor organization and John Snow has travelled to the area frequently too. Randal has outlined his experience in an October 8, 2016 blog post that can be accessed here: http://meuseargonnerg.wpengine.com/?p=1603.)
Endorsement From a 2017 Participant
Through this website, Randal also has the opportunity to help planning trips, including Valerie Young; who is booked on the 2017 tour. She has written this endorsement:
Randy has been an invaluable resource to me this year in the planning of my personal journey to the Meuse-Argonne to bring to life the grandfather I never knew. His website was my initial introduction to his vast knowledge of the history and geography of the area. His recommendations for books, maps, other websites, and travel insights were tremendously helpful. We then had a lunch meeting where I shared my ideas about an individual journey; his great awareness and input validated my confidence and respect for him, his commitment to the Meuse-Argonne, and his desire to enable others to experience it as he has for so many years.
With Randy’s help, I was able to “follow in the footsteps” that my grandfather took nearly 100 years ago. Randy helped me find a guide/driver and accommodations, and provided important information on specific battlefield monuments and sites related to my grandfather’s infantry unit. His detailed knowledge of the area is essential to anyone planning a trip there. I am now writing about my grandfather’s military journey, and look forward to joining the tour in June 2017.
Making it Personal to the Participant
All of the organizing and presentation of history aside, there comes a time on a tour when a person is just struck by something that resonates with his / her soul–and that is why reading history or exploring Google Earth does NOT provide the same experience as a pilgrimage!
For the webmaster one such occasion was listening to a Volksbund (German War Graves Association) employee talk about the last (annual) visit of an aging spouse to her husband’s grave at the cemetery. She knew she would be meeting him again soon.
For two members of the 8th Kuerassier Regiment on the 2005 tour it was touring Helly Ravine near Fort Douaumont. Following their visit, they questioned whether reenacting was just playing cowboys and Indians; and they had a new-found understanding of the terrible conditions for the soldiers during the Verdun battle and during the Great War in general.
In spite of the language differences, Susan Hall-Balduf, a participant on the 2007 tour, had the following shared cultural experience with a local:
A highlight for me was a visit to the little village of Exermont in the Meuse-Argonne, south of Verdun, where my great-uncle, with the 35th Division, was shot and gassed. I had my first conversation with a Frenchwoman:
I said: Mon oncle. (My uncle.) Soldat ici. (Was a soldier here.) Blessee. (He was wounded.)
She said: Bludela, bludela, bludela, les Boche! (The Germans.) Bludela, bludela, bludela, la butte! (Were on the hill.) [waving of hands] (The Americans were here.) Carnage.
I said: Carnage. (That doesn’t need translating.)
The 35th Division was virtually destroyed at Exermont on Sept.29-30: 7,300 casualties with more than 1,100 killed or died of wounds. My great-uncle was rescued, spent six months in a French hospital and came home to Kansas, where he died of lung disease at 61.
It meant a great deal to me to visit Exermont.
Additional Information on the Guide
In addition to presenting the events and their significance, the battlefield tour guide must become quite proficient in logistics: One has to schedule visits, hotels, bus timing, etc. To do this, one has to know the region and its people and be able to speak the language. One also needs to be organized, to be financially savvy and to understand how to model / consider risks.
Randal has all of these qualifications. He has arranged many details for the second half of the 2007 Western Front Association USA Branch’s tour and other tours. Randal was the coordinator for the WW1HA’s 2015 Symposium in Lisle, Illinois; which featured eight speakers and almost 100 participants over two days. Randal’s profession as a high-yield bond analyst and his work as Treasurer of the Great War Association, Chairman of the Finance Committee at his previous church and Treasurer of Troop 56 BSA Millington, NJ has also helped him develop the skills necessary.
Again, it needs to be emphasized that Randal worked with the WW1HA and its directors to plan the trip.
Take Action Today!
Please reserve your space today; Please tell your friends about this opportunity; and please contact Randal with any questions: [email protected] or 908-451-0252.