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The Long, Cold Road To Freedom

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THE rain shimmered down the window of the train as it headed from Brussels to Arlon. I wasn't aware of the downpour, I was so engrossed in reading a diary about ``The Battle of the Bulge,'' which Sir Winston Churchill had referred to as ``the greatest American battle of the Second World War.''

When the assignment came for me to tape a show on the former battlefields, the Belgian government had suggested I talk with Emil Engels, an expert on this battle who lives near Bastogne.

At the station, Mr. Engels, a retired Belgian colonel, emerged from the crowd, his posture straight as an arrow. He spoke perfect English and invited me to his house.

As we arrived, the sun washed the land with a glow. His wife, daughter, and mother-in-law were there to greet me. His mother-in-law's friendly eyes gave no hint that she had lived through World Wars I and II and that her village had been occupied three times by German troops.

They were interested in the fact that my uncle, Cpl. James Churchill had been left for dead on the battlefield. I can still remember sitting around the fireplace as my dad told about their parents receiving the missing-in-action telegram, and a week later attending the funeral. Then, two days ahead of a second telegram from the War Department, my uncle walked up to his parents' door!

Soon, Engels and I journeyed to Bastogne, following the same route the armies had taken. Gazing across the pasture land, I could hear the cowbells softly clanging in the distance, and on the horizon was the forest of the Ardennes. It seemed impossible to think that 50 years ago 20,000 Americans had been killed defending this land.

Engels explained, ``For six months after the Allies landed at Normandy, they slowly advanced toward the German frontier. The Allies had concentrated their forces in that area, but left the entire north-south line along the Ardennes thinly defended. Who would guess Hitler would mount his last campaign here?''

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