Griffin Group Photo AM322. Cross-Roads at Le Chene Tondu. The Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof is just to the left of this photo. Most American tourists know only this part of the plateau; but there is a German Camp (the Borrieswaldlager), a German concrete signal bunker (aka Blinkstelle) and a 100+ year-old tree within a few hundred meters? Also, one can see the foxholes in which the German two battalions of Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 125 held off the 111th and 112th Infantry Regiments, 28th Division for more than a week.
Part 1 of this “editorial” blogpost is based on various encounters the Webmaster has had in recent years. Part 2 will focus on helping readers plan a more fulfilling battlefield tour.
Encounter 1: The See-Europe-in-a-day American Tourist
A woman who ran a successful B&B in Flanders for many years stated that almost all Americans who she encountered planned to see the Ypres Salient in a day or two. Once there, they would realize how much more there was to see; but their heavily-scheduled vacation would not permit another day. Her advice: Slow down, and plan to spend more time in the area. There really is a lot to see. The Webmaster wholeheartedly agrees–whether one is talking about Ypres or the Meuse-Argonne.
Encounter 2: The day Tripper
Last year the Webmaster encountered tour companies that will shuttle visitors from Paris to a one-day tour of the Meuse-Argonne battlefield. The problem is: Participants spend three hours getting to the Meuse-Argonne, see only the major highlights, and then spend another three hours getting back to Paris in time for a nice dinner on some boulevard. The Webmaster asks, “Why not spend a few days in the Meuse-Argonne and a few days in Paris?” One of the beautiful things about the Meuse-Argonne, Verdun and St. Mihiel battlefields are the large number of physical remains still there–if one knows where and how to look.
Encounter 3: The Uninformed Traveler
This was perhaps the most distressing encounter of the Webmaster’s 2018 stay in France: At a local restaurant he met an American couple who had come here to pay their respects to a family member buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne. Because of fear of driving, they took a train to the Meuse TGV Gare and took a taxi to the cemetery and to their hotel. They stayed only for a few days, and they did virtually no exploring of the location where the ancestor fought. This Webmaster asks himself, “how could they travel all that distance, but only be satisfied with laying a wreath at the cemetery?”
In a similar story, a few years ago one client’s sister (?) also apparently traveled to the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery to visit an ancestor’s grave. Not knowing what was in the surrounding area, the visit was simply a cemetery visit. Luckily, through a second cousin today’s clients were put in touch with the Webmaster in 2018. He and Harry Rupert were able to show the clients just where the ancestor fought and died. Now, at least, they have context surrounding his death.
Already in 2013 the Webmaster penned the blogpost with the above title and link; outlining what was needed to plan a successful pilgrimage: “Planning a battlefield tour requires several skill sets including: Knowledge of the sites and events that the reader wants to explore; some knowledge of the language and culture; and some knowledge of the local area.” Readers are encouraged to look again at the details in that blogpost. It is still a relevant starting point today. A second step should be a search of this website for relevant blog posts or useful information pages.
What has changed over the last five years is the amount of information available electronically–ranging from divisional and regimental histories AND maps to tour stories from other pilgrims to YouTube videos covering just about every inch of the battlefield to websites that talk about driving in Europe. Included in the information growth is the Meuse-Argonne.com Facebook Group, which was started in 2015 and which has grown to almost 1,500 members. The Webmaster is extremely proud that there are many active participants, and that approximately 30% of the members are Europeans, who know this area of France very well! In most cases, members are happy to answer new questions and provide insight and opinions.
The point of this “editorial” is not to make the Webmaster and his website look good: It is to emphasize that there is enough information available to plan a really fulfilling trip to the battlefields–ONE THAT MOVES AWAY FROM JUST VISITNG MONUMENTS, MARKERS AND MUSEUMS AND ONE THAT FOCUSES ON EXPLORING WHERE A UNIT FOUGHT IN THE FIELD! Finding good books / websites on the battle has never been easier. One can start with “American Armies and Battlefields in Europe” and Ed Lengel’s “To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne 1918.” But there are lots of unit histories, biographies, etc. that also add flavor. One can find information on French travel and culture just as easily. And one can seek advice from others who have traveled to the region. Those who seek and find the research and assistance will be rewarded with a much more fulfilling battlefield tour!