Today is 15 November, 2017. The Webmaster’s six-month stay on the American battlefields in France has come to an end. In a few hours he will be on a plane headed back to the United States; contemplating what comes next.
Thanks to a wonderful wife and an army of supportive people–on both sides of the Atlantic–he was able to live out his dream of spending significant time on the American battlefields–mostly the Meuse-Argonne. During that time he led about fifteen small group tours for approximately 45 days; and he did the reconnaissance required for the tours. Watching his clients as they were able to retrace the footsteps of their ancestors was truly wonderful. As a result of these tours he also saw much more of the front than he ever imagined. He found new places to eat; new paths to remaining trench lines, etc.
He also had the joyous experience of bridging two cultures; making new acquaintances on both sides of the Atlantic and experiencing the beauty and joys (most of the time) of rural France!
Most people, middle-age Americans especially, spend a great portion of their time re-living their past or worrying about their future. The beauty of the sabbatical was that he could spend most of his time in the present; focused on the battle and the battlefields. For this reason, he would encourage others to plan such a sabbatical to pursue their passions.
The future remains uncertain; but he has faith that he will figure things out. His CO (aka wife) does not want to move to France so he could run a B&B / small museum. But he still wants to be involved in battlefield touring; so he needs to explore alternative career paths that would give him that flexibility. Of course, 2018 marks the Centennial of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; so he is making plans to be present for that.
Was it worth it? Yes!!! Did he achieve everything he wanted to? No; but there is always next year. Since his first work weekend with the German Remembrance Committee of the Argonne Forest in 1994 he has found himself drawn to the Meuse-Argonne–the longest and largest American – German battle of the Great War–for reasons he can’t explain. This sabbatical enriched his understanding of the battle and the horrific conditions under which soldiers on both sides fought. It was a wonderful experience to be able to spend time retracing the soldiers’ steps; to be able to find trench and bunker remains in the woods and fields; and to be able to see the Western Front through then and now photos. Through all of this he has “seen” the Western Front and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in a way that is just not possible with a normal week-long vacation visit. For that, he will be forever grateful.