Traveling opportunities in Europe are ENDLESS! But some of my favorite trips have been to places where there’s American military history involved! Austin and I have tried to get to as many American memorials and cemeteries as we can while living in Germany, and this being our last few weeks before moving, we decided to finally explore Verdun.
In honor of Memorial Day weekend, I figured it best to feature a post on our most recent trip to Verdun for Austin’s birthday!
The aspect of this that hits home for me is that realistically, 100 years ago isn’t really all THAT long ago. Sure, it sounds long and our world has changed so much since the early 20th century, but we all know that time passes so quickly, right? Most of those reading this may have a grandfather, or great-grandfather who served in WWI (I do!). It’s not such an ancient event that we have to spend hours searching for a direct link to it… which is what makes it feel more real.
The Pennsylvania Memorial (left) and trenches (right).
Notre-Dame de Verdun Cathedral
In the city, we spent some time in the Notre-Dame de Verdun Cathedral. During the war, the city as bombed but the cathedral sustained minimal damage. It was gorgeous!! The boys lit some candles and we said some prayers. It was also Mother’s Day!
Memorial de verdun
the trench of the bayonets
the trench of the bayonets
After the cathedral, we ventured up to the Memorial de Verdun, which consists of the museum and memorial, but essentially spans the battlefield of Verdun as a whole.
Also in this location are the destroyed villages (9), the Trench of the Bayonets, Fort Douaumont, The Douaumont Ossuary, and Fort Vaux.
We explored the museum for about an hour and a half, then walked around the ghost village of Fleury, there there are markers that explain where each building had existed (ie. the bakery, a farmhouse, the chapel, etc.). The town was literally wiped off the map by bombings and the townsfolk had to flea their homes in the middle of the night in the month of December. Could you imagine!?
The Trench of the Bayonets is haunting. It symbolizes men that were buried alive due to the bombardment of artillery shells (below).
Meuse-Argonne american cemetery & memorial
The cemetery is located roughly 35 minutes from the city of Verdun. Spanning 130.5 acres, this is one of the most BEAUTIFUL American cemeteries in Europe that we have visited. There are 14,246 headstones.
Two other facts worth mentioning: there are 22 sets of brothers buried side-by-side and 9 medal of honor recipients.
I had arranged a private tour with the cemetery superintendent, so we had a more personalized experience during our visit, which was perfect with the kids. A surprise highlight was that Austin and the boys assisted in taking both American flags down at 5pm. The boys are STILL talking about it!
We stayed in a small, simple BNB in the very tiny village of Vauquois that I found through Booking.com. The most interesting thing about this village is that you can hike up the hill to walk in the preserved trenches. In fact, the hill itself was blown in TWO during the war; massive craters are visible from an aerial view of the hillside.
Austin and I took turns walking around and left the kiddos behind for this one (images below).
talking to young kids about war
…Not the easiest thing in the world, but inevitable. Eventually, all children will learn about what war is in school, from movies, or from someone else. Why not learn about it from us, their parents? During our visit to the cemetery, the superintendent, Mr. Bruce Malone, explained to me that he regularly has visits from French children who come visit with their parents and grandparents, and on school trips. He said that the children grow up hearing the war stories of their great-grandfathers, great-uncles, etc., and other family members who experienced it at the time, from their parents and grandparents. These stories are a part of their family story, and it’s regularly discussed and respected from a very early age.
Yes, some images in the museums and depictions in photographs can be scary to young children, and we do our best to avoid letting our very little ones see ‘too much’.
But, in the end, it’s history and American history at that, and it deserves to be remembered and respected at any and every age!
Have you ever visited Verdun, or any special battlefields that made a lasting impact on you?
If so, please comment below and share!
Thanks for reading!