Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Liberating Belgium- Cendron

Sign post marking the point where Allied troops entered
Belgium in 1944
For all of you World War II buffs out there (and by living in Belgium I'm quickly becoming one myself), today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Cendron, Belgium. On this day in 1944 American troops crossed the border from France and entered Belgium for the first time.

In 1940 the Nazis established a headquarters in nearby (4 kilometers) Forge-Phillipe and thus began the long four year occupation by Hitler's forces. Entire villages were evacuated with the Germans building bunkers on the rolling farmland. Villagers were displaced, farms pillaged and life as Belgians knew it changed forever. So when the American troops came rolling over the border at 09.30 on the morning of  September 2nd, they were welcomed with great fanfare and open arms.

Today the village is little more than a handful of buildings and a monument commemorating their liberation that was dedicated in 1973. However, each year, in the days leading up to the anniversary of the liberation, local residents come out and celebrate. There are reenactments, period music and a grand march following in the footsteps of the liberating soldiers. Young and old, locals and the relatives of American liberators descend upon this tiny hamlet and celebrate.

We had heard about the celebrations this past weekend and decided to check them out since Sidney is all about seeing "the military" these days. Directions were spotty but we had been assured that we couldn't miss it so we found ourselves following small wooden signs as we wound down one narrow lane after another. And then suddenly we were there. American flags flew alongside Belgian ones and the pastures had been turned into makeshift parking lots. A small encampment of canvas tents had been erected in another field. Soldiers dressed in period costumes roamed the muddy streets and the sounds of Doris Day and the Andrew Sisters filled the air. We had arrived too late for the march but spent time checking out the jeeps and the memorial. We walked across the border into France and back again. We chatted with a Belgian soldier who, upon learning we were Americans, told us a bit about the day's events and about the other Americans who were also visiting.

The celebration had a local feel to it; it was missing the big bands and flashy details that I have come to expect at such events. But it all seemed so real. The people celebrating were mostly locals or those who had deep connections to the town. They were celebrating for themselves rather than putting on a show for the outside world. Even decades after the fact, their appreciation for the liberators (in this case Americans) felt genuine. For me, it felt special to be there.

And commemorations like this are happening all over Belgium, and Europe, this year. We are definitely going to make an effort to seek out and visit more celebrations like this. For us, they are once in a life time opportunities.

A liberator's jeep

"The first American troops entered Belgium at this point on
the 2nd of September 1944 at 09.30"

Memorial paying tribute to the Allied forces who
"beat down the monstrous Nazis"

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