Visit a Battlefield with the Colonel
Have you ever wanted to visit a battlefield, with your very own personal guide, who knows a whole lot of interesting history of the battle, has written about battles, has personally met and interviewed significant military figures of World War II, who will take you to the places on the field you’ve only dreamed about seeing, who will modify the visit to do what YOU want to do and show you things that no one else can, all the while making it fun for you? You may only have one chance to do this, given your busy schedule and all the commitments you have, of seeing a battlefield the way that you want to, not the way a tour guide on a bus is going to let you.
Well now you can!
Spending over thirty years in the Army means you will be moving from one place to another every few years, packing and unpacking, packing and unpacking. The good news is that you may live near some interesting battlefields. That happened to me, and since service in Germany accounted for twelve years of my career, the battlefields there came within reach. That was on my own time and then I got really lucky. As a battalion commander at Fort Benning, I was encouraged and resourced to take the officers to nearby battlefields, so we visited New Orleans, Chickamauga and Charleston. Then we pushed the envelope and visited Gettysburg! Later as the Inspector General for the Army in Europe, I was invited by General Meigs (on the Army’s dime) to go on numerous staff rides to World War II battlefields such as Aachen, the Hürtgen Forestand the Battle of the Bulge. In Europe, we were again encouraged and resourced to take officers and NCOs on battle staff rides and I was able to travel with the entire IG section to visit German Field Marshal Rommel’s home and site where he committed suicide. There, the IGs discussed what an officer’s duties were when he or she believed that an order was illegal. Later, we traveled to Berlin to walk the battle of the Seelow Heights, and on a later staff ride we went to see Auschwitz and discussed war crimes…experiences that you just cannot get by simply reading a book. Finally, as a professor at the National War College, I was able to organize and take the students to Gettysburg every year to discuss the nature of war.
Visiting a battlefield provides a forum to do two things. First, obviously, is to relive – in a safe manner – what actually happened there. This is the history piece. Some visitors want to really get into the details of the armies involved, such is which division was on the right of the line, and how many soldiers were in that regiment. Those visitors fall into the category of “Grognards” and are certainly to be commended for drilling deep into the subject and perhaps finding nuggets of knowledge that other historians had never known before.
A second category of visitor wants to capture the feel of the battle. Those battlefield guests want to know what emotions the combatants were feeling; what they did to get over their fears, how they survived their wounds and what they thought of their leaders. For these visitors, they may not remember how many soldiers were involved or what each unit did, but they will depart the battlefield with an excellent sense of what made the soldiers “tick” back in that time.
We can go to the Little Bighorn/Last Stand Hill, D-Day/Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, Hürtgen Forest, Seelow Heights/Berlin, The Nazi Holocaust and Gettysburg. We’ve also visited Verdun, the Somme (both from World War I), Cassino in Italy and the Maginot Line in France (World War II.) If The Fifth Field is successful, I will put together a tour of sites in Europe related to that book.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that you are going to be in Munich on business, live there now, or are planning a trip in the upcoming months. I can meet you there and take you up to Dachau, show you the concentration camp and provide numerous anecdotes on the Nazis that worked there, something no camp guide can really do. Then we can go back to Munich and swing by one of the best military bookstores in Germany, Christian Schmidt Fachbuchhandlung (Sauerbruchstrasse 10, Tel+49 89 703227, www.christian-schmidt.com) Owner Gabi Schmidt speaks perfect English and you will be absolutely amazed at what you can find. Then maybe you want to see where Ernst Röhm, mountain general Eduard Dietl, the infamous medical experimenter Dr. Karl Gebhardt, or the prolific German executioner Joahann Reichhart are buried; I can take you right to their graves. On a second day, we could concentrate downtown. You can walk along the same route as the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch revolutionaries, see the apartment where Hitler lived as a young man, go to the same cafes the early Nazi leaders did or see where Reinhard Heydrich started the dreaded SD security service, again I can provide as many interesting anecdotes as you want. For a once in a lifetime side trip, we can drive west 30 minutes to Landsberg and see the front of the prison where Hitler was incarcerated after the failed Putsch. Then we can walk over to the nearby cemetery and see 155 crosses, where Nazi war criminals were buried after being executed at Landsberg. There are no names on the crosses. The cemetery staff will not tell you who is buried there, nor will the prison staff. But don’t worry, I have a detailed map of the whole place and know where every body is buried; it is a chilling place, and no one has more information about these criminals and can share it with you then I can (for a start, go to Amazon.com and download The Devil’s Graveyard.) Then back to Munich, where during your entire visit we can eat at many excellent restaurants and you can make your own informed decision of which beer hall is best — after you have tried a bunch of them! And if your spouse is with you, maybe we can convince Olga to come along.
All that deals with your own personal visit to a battlefield or significant historical location. But what about if you want to take selected members of your business or organization to a battlefield and make it a business trip to help you improve your group’s teamwork? You want to ascertain lessons from the battle that can be applied to your own business or organization today. The process by which each commander came to various decisions during the fighting, often can be applicable to decision-making today as one business competitor “fights” against another. For you, discussions of the weapons involved or what division held what hill is not important. You want examples of dealing with subordinates, “scouting” the competition, decision-making techniques, operating in uncertainty, reacting to adversity and organizing teams of leaders.
That requires a small team of experts and you are in luck. Jack and I have all the resources to lead your organization’s key leaders on battlefield visits to 1863 Gettysburg, 1836 Alamo, 1814 New Orleans, or the 1876 Little Bighorn, focusing on how you want your organization to gain decision-making skills and increase efficiency. Drop me an email and we’ll look to see what is possible and lay out some options; if you have a battlefield near you, we can help you learn valuable organizational lessons from it. Or if you just need info on a battlefield, I’ll be glad to point you in the right direction.
Battlefields to Visit
The following battlefield visits are well worth your time; I’ve been to all of them several times. Read-up on the actual battle before you go, get a good map and comfortable walking shoes, and remember to take your camera. Click on one of the buttons below for photos & more information.