After I had written my first draft of Shadows in the Mist, I delved into everything that was about World War II, watching all the classic movies and reading excellent books like Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers, Roscoe C. Blunt, Jr.'s Foot Soldier, and Gerald Astor's The Bloody Forest. After months of book research, I decided that in order for my period novel to feel as if you are living among the infantry soldiers during the bloody battle of the Huertgen Forest, I decided to spend two weeks backpacking across Germany and walking the very battle fields I was writing about.
My journey led to me to some incredible places and facinating people. I started in Paris and rode a train to Brussels then Luxemburg. I got off briefly in Luxemburg to purchase a map of Germany. At this point all I had was an old map printed in a war book, and quite frankly, I had no idea where this Huertgen Forest was. I just knew it was near the border of Belgium and Germany and south of Aachen, which was on the map. Once I had my German map, it still wasn't clear where the Huertgen Forest was, but I saw there was a town named Huertgen, so I figured, find the town, I'll find the forest and maybe some battle fields. Little did I know that the Hertz dealer renting me my car--his name is Albert--would also turn out to be a World War II historian who specialized in the battles of the Hürtgen Forest. I had struck gold with my immediate friendship with Albert. He took me under his wing and shared all he knew of the battles that had happened in the surrounding woods and mountains. Albert showed me pictures he had collected, took me on a tour of a private museum at a German man's house, mapped out historical landmarks like the Dragon's Teeth that formed the Siegfried Line, blown-out bunkers, and forests where foxholes dugout by U.S. infantry still pock the forest ground.
The photos below tell a visual story of my journey as I was invited to join Albert, his Dutch historian friend, Ron, and veteran German soldiers of the 89th Infantry Division, Regiments 1055 and 1056, on a cross-country tour of museums and battle fields. As we toured, the veterans told their versions of the battles as the Allies breached the German borders and began attacking the local towns like Vossenak and Schmidt. Standing in these thick woods and hearing war stories from the soldiers who fought inside the Hürtgen was both surreal and inspiring. My experiences researching in Germany impacted the book as I returned home to write several more drafts, this time feeling as if I had walked in there footsteps. Even now I can imagine hiking through those dense and foggy woods, listening to the battlecries of ghost soldiers as the rain pelted the branches, turning the world inside the Hürtgen Forest damp and and eerie. It was then that I understood why the GI soldiers called this forest the Green Hell.
Hop in my Smart car, and let's take a drive through the Hürtgen Forest. Just click on the photos and read the captions.
The Dragon's Teeth
Two excellent tour guides
Finding Buried Treasure
The Secret Museum
Remembering the Fallen
Special thanks to Albert Trostorf, Ron van Ryjt, and the veterans of the 89th Infantry for inviting me on their tour of the Ardennes and Hürtgen Forests. May the fallen soldiers of both U.S. and Germany be honored and remembered.