Following in the Footsteps of Our Fallen Fathers in Belgium

Crossing over to Belgium from Germany is seamless. AOL Auto's David Kiley finds his way to the next and last stop on the journey to find the footsteps and final resting place of his Uncle Eddie. The trip was made easy by the navigation system in the 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited he took on the trip.

Crossing over to Belgium from Germany is seamless. And finding our way to our next and last stop on the journey to find the footsteps and final resting place of my Uncle Eddie is made easy by the navigation system in the 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited I took on the trip.

To see the video of David Kiley's Journey to find a lost uncle, click here.

It feels right driving a Jeep for this trip. The brand, owned by Chrysler, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this month. It all started with the Willys GPW (Jeep) in 1941, a military vehicle ordered up by the War Dept. in 1940 to essentially replace wagons and mules in the battlefield theaters of war.

My destination was Henri Chapelle American Cemetery in Hombourg, Belgium, one of several overseas cemeteries run by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). About 10 miles over the German border, south of Liege, it is much smaller than, say, Arlington National cemetery in Virginia. And because it is more intimate, the ground seems all the more hallowed by the sacrifice of those who are buried there.

My father, Charles Kiley, who was writing in Paris for The Stars and Stripes newspaper when he got word of his brother's death, drove a Willys Jeep to the area when Cpl. Eddie Kiley was laid in a grave with just a wooden cross. Two of my six siblings have been to this place, but it was a first for me.

Hallowed Ground and Dedication to Honor

Not only does the ABMC do a phenomenal job of maintaining Henri Chapelle, but there are citizens of Belgium, Holland and even Germany who have adopted graves there. They come to visit, and lay flowers, especially on the days that mark a soldier's birth and death. I discovered the names of a local couple who look after my Uncle's grave, and I will send them some pictures I know they don't have. I met a young couple from Holland in the visitor's center who run a website for adopters like himself.

If you are next of kin, like I am, the superintendent gives you special attention. After a talk about the cemetery and battle--the Battle of the Huertgen Forest-- in which my uncle fought, he walked my friends and I to my uncle's grave. There, he rubbed wet sand from Omaha Beach into the letters of his grave so his name will be easier to see in the photos we took. The sand washes away, of course, in the next rainfall. Taps and The Star Spangled Banner is played over the cemetery's speakers. The atmosphere is like being in a cathedral, but outside. And there isn't a sign of unnecessary adornments. Just a tragic sea of white Italian marble crosses and Stars of David, perfect manicured green grass, and a great deal of solemnity.

I have been to World War One cemeteries in the Somme Valley, and was involuntarily brought to my knees reading headstones of young men identified on their markers as "school master," "carpenter," "painter." When you see your own family's name on a stone, connect a grave with the stories you have heard about a young man, close kin, deprived of life, the depth of feeling, of course, is much closer to one's heart.

Staying in Brussels

Upon leaving, we had choices of where to spend the night. Aachen was a possibility, or Liege. But we were leaving to head back to the U.S. from the Brussels Airport the next day, so we drove the 70 miles to the nation's capital and the seat of NATO. Lodging is abundant and reasonable in summer, and we opted for the Brussels Marriott on Auguste Ortsstraat, in the heart of the city.

I hit the Internet looking for a really good restaurant, as we had not had what I would call a first-class meal the whole week. I found La Clef des Champs on Rue Rollebeek. Not only does it come highly recommended, but the sweetbreads casserole and Guinea fowl on the menu seemed right up my street. Alas, when we arrived in a downpour, it was full, owing in part to the outdoor seating being out of commission. No problem. We went down the street to La Tortue where we had mussels in a champagne and garlic broth that was to die for, and a half-lobster. A plate of French and Belgian cheeses and a local Reisling from Mosel was just the capper we needed after an emotional day. We could see that there were a dozen restaurants in this neighborhood, and that none would disappoint.

Brussels, like Berlin, is a fabulous city to see on foot, or better yet, by bike. Bike lanes abound and vehicular traffic are generally very respectful. It is not uncommon to find men and women in their 60s and 70s cycling from here to to there. No wonder they all look more fit than people in a typical American city.

With little time on a Sunday morning before departure, I rode to The Eglise Saint-Nicolas (St. Nicholas Church) for Sunday service, and to light s candle for my uncle. The choir was spectacular.

If you find yourself in Belgium, make sure you get over to the Grand Place in the morning for coffee and croissants. Sit in the square that author Victor Hugo described as the most beautiful in the world. He wasn't kidding.

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Following in the Footsteps of Our Fallen Fathers in Belgium

Henri Chapelle American Cemetery is located about 29 kl south of Liege and 16 kl west of Aachen Germany. It is a solemn place. Be sure to stop by the memorial to the "Big Red One," the First Infantry Division, on the road to the cemetery.

The cemetery is administered and funded through an office of the Defense Dept. But local citizens in Belgium, Holland and even Germany, adopt the graves of fallen soldiers. These men were killed primarily in the Battle of the Huertgen Forest and The Battle of The Bulge.

Families were given the option of having their fallen loved ones repatriated home, or interred permanently abroad near the battlefield where they were killed.

A visit to the battlefield areas and American cemetery can easily be combined with a visit to Brussels, a spectacular city that is the home to the European Union.

A historic city filled with fabulous architecture, restaurants, museums and more, the main square has been described by author Victor Hugo as the most beautiful public square in the world.

Cafes, museums, chocolate shops, ladies with pocketbook dogs, flower sellers...all make for a wonderful atmosphere.

Brussels, like Berlin, is a wonderful biking city. Bike rentals are plentiful, as are bike tours of the city.

The main flea market in Brussels that draws locals as well as tourists.

Antiques, prints, used is a great place to fritter away an afternoon, provided, of course, you take breaks for wine, Belgian beer and a nosh.

You have heard of "Eat, Pray, Love"? Here is where you Browse, Drink, Chat.

The St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is a church in Gothic style from the 13th century, although there are parts of it that are as old as the 11th c.

The Cathedral gets its name from the patron saints of Brussels, St. Michael (the archangel) and St. Gudula.  It is used for Catholic services, royal marriages and state funerals

A wonderful place to ride your bike to and spend an hour or so, or more, taking in a service, hearing the choir if you are lucky, or contemplating how lucky you are to be in such a fabulous, historic city.

For more serious, and credit-card dependent shopping, one must explore the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert, a historic shopping arcade built in the 19th century.

The dazzling Town Hall, parts of which date to 1402, is home to fabulous Gothic arched windows and sculptures. My favorite is the Drunken Monks. You can tour the interior on a 40-minute tours, which start in a roomful of paintings of the past foreign rulers of Brussels, who have included the Spanish, Austrians, French, and Dutch. The wonderful mirrored Gothic Hall is open for visits when the city's aldermen are not in session.


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