Last week, for the first time in 20 years together, Dave & I went away for five whole days without any children. It was the 70th Anniversary of Operation Market Garden, and Dave jumped as part of the commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem.
On Saturday we woke, way too early before five in the morning, to heavy fog. The planes were grounded and the planned jumps into Ginkel Heath were delayed. Eventually only half the jumps were rescheduled and we found ourselves with the luxury of wandering through the events, displays and ceremonies. The actual DZ (drop zone) was located in the middle of nowhere, Holland. The jumps that day planned to re-act the same jumps 70 years earlier, in the exact same location. We parked our van as close as we could, then joined the crowd hiking in. Soon we were surrounded by not just walkers, but also hundreds of bike riders.
Halfway to the DZ I heard a low rumbling, steadily getting louder and deeper. At first I looked up, expecting the planes to be rolling in despite the lingering mist, then I realized it was coming from the ground right as the first half-track (part tank, part truck) came careening around the corner aiming straight for me.
Thankfully Dave pulled me to the side, and after five minutes of watching the British retreat (they were due for different ceremonies over in Nijmegen), I remembered my camera and pulled it out to quickly snap some photo’s. More half-tracks passed, a troop transport, medical vehicles, motorcycles and scout bikes (comically small motorcycles dropped with the parachutists), and jeeps. Lots and lots of old, lovingly restored WWII era jeeps.
Walking through the woods of my childhood that day was surreal. A mix of modern and an era before my time, as bikes rode past and jeeps kicked up dust, while half-tracks and troop transports had me dodging behind trees. I could almost feel the fear, and the elation, of my forefathers as vehicle after vehicle passed by.
When we finally reached the DZ, looking surprisingly like the practice DZs back at Ft. Bragg, I was overwhelmed to see thousands of people gathered for the commemoration events (news reports put it at 40,000). It was at least a 6 kilometer hike in, and yet it felt like half my country was there to honor the Americans, Poles, Brits, French, Italian, Belgian soldiers who fought to liberate us 70 years ago.