HUDDLING IN THE rental car, I heard something outside.
This was a recent Sunday morning, after my husband, Phil, and I traveled from Port Angeles to central Europe.
Phil did copious research about a particular place in Luxembourg, and now here we were, beside a grove of trees near the town of Eschdorf.
For this column, I’m venturing a few thousand miles from the Peninsula to a place where many of our parents and grandparents served. This being November, the month of Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, I’m thinking of this place.
It was a chilly, windy fall Sunday, and I looked out at trees clothed in red and gold.
We were near where my father-in-law, Donovan Lusk, spent Christmas morning, 1944. It was a Sunday like this, only instead of soft earth on the forest floor, Don walked through and dug foxholes in a frigid layer of snow.
That Christmas Day, 21-year-old Don wrote a letter to his bride, Anne. He was a combat infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge, a turning point in World War II. He came through this neck of the woods after riding an Army transport truck and then marching across rural France and Luxembourg.
Despite the ferocity of the Nazi army, despite their bouncing Betty mines, tanks and “Screaming Mimi” rocket artillery, Don survived. He made it back home to Houghton, Mich., where he went to college on the GI Bill and started a family, the family that includes my beloved Phil.
Phil and I have the scores upon scores of letters Don wrote to Anne while he was serving in Europe.
In them, he does not complain about the snow, the bombs, the mines, the death all around him.
He writes instead about his hopes for peace; for a future with Anne, whom he addresses over and over as “My Dearest Darling.”
I believe, by the way, that the spouses of those who serve in the military are veterans, too.
Don and Anne are gone now. Reading the letters, we are inspired to learn, and hopefully write, more about how sending those missives helped them make it through the war.
This fall, we walked beside the forests and pastures where the battles took place.
We saw a little church in Eschdorf where the bells probably stayed silent on Christmas Day so as not to make the chapel a target.
The Battle of the Bulge is said to be the bloodiest of the Second World War. Some 19,000 American soldiers lost their lives.
At the American Cemetery in Luxembourg, the white crosses and Stars of David stretch out in long lines, like paths into the past.
There and beside the woods near Eschdorf, I gave thanks for them all. Don Lusk and his fellow soldiers faced down fear, miles of frozen country and the daily possibility of a violent end. He lived through something words fail to describe.
So after listening to that sound winding through the trees, I opened the car door. I turned my body toward the woods, toward the town beyond.
The sound was bells ringing: the bells of the church a mile or so away, ringing out on a Sunday.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Angeles.
Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Nov. 15.
Reach her at [email protected]