In the Footsteps of Heroes
As long as I can remember I have always wanted to take a tour of any battlefield associated with World War II. I can remember playing with my little green army men when I was seven years old, building forts in the sandbox and trying to recreate my favorite scenes from movies like The Longest Day. As I got older my interests started to turn into passions, who were these men who stormed the beaches, jumped out of planes and drove tanks across the sands of Africa. I wanted to know more so I started to read as many books as I could, older books like Enemy at the Gates or A Bridge Too Far and a new book that caught my eye in the late 1990′s by Stephen Ambrose. I remember reading the book Band of Brothers and really enjoying it.
When I heard that HBO was making a mini-series about it and that Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg were involved, thoughts of Saving Private Ryan danced in my head. Unfortunately for me I did not have HBO so I had to wait, while I waited I dusted off my old copy of Band of Brothers and read it again.
For years I have wanted to make a voyage over to Europe, to see Omaha Beach, Pt Du Hoc, Caen, and Carentan to name a few.
I also wanted to get more involved in the history of World War II, I wanted to help out if I could, I wanted to meet Veterans and say thank you. I ordered World War II magazine, I became a Charter member of the D-Day Museum in New Orleans and I even took my wife, sister and her soon to be husband out to Washington D.C for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day at the new World War II Memorial.
Still something was missing, I still had not been able to see any battlefields of WW2.
I saw an add for Stephen Ambrose Tours in World War II Magazine as well as Armchair General. They had a Band of Brothers Tour and who better to give a Band of Brothers Tour than a company formed by the guy who wrote the book. I immediately put in phone calls to the great people at Stephen Ambrose Tours asking dozens of questions and they were very nice, answering all my questions in a timely manner. I also contacted Eric Weider at Armchair General and told him what I wanted to do. Eric gave me his 100% support for my idea and we booked the tour for May of 2007. I wanted to go on this tour ASAP due to the fact that they always have a Veteran of Easy Company join them. For this tour William "Wild Bill " Wingett would be the guest of honor.
The story I am about to tell will focus on not only this great tour and our adventures but of one of the greatest men I have ever met, Bill Wingett. He made us laugh, he made us cry and I will never forget the days we were able to spend with him.
Day 1. Madison to Atlanta.
Leaving my wife and son was one of the toughest things I have ever done but my focus was on the trip that lay ahead. After a tearful hug and kiss goodbye I hopped onto the bus bound for Milwaukee, my flight to Milwaukee was canceled so on a bus we went. The flight from Milwaukee to Atlanta was smooth and all went well. Arriving in Atlanta I grabbed my bags and headed for the shuttle that was to take me to my first hotel on the tour. The Crowne Plaza in Atlanta is a beautiful hotel close to the airport. I was one of the first to arrive and luckily we had early check in. I also grabbed the box of t-shirts, hats and magazines supplied by Eric and headed to the room. Soon my roommate for the tour, Marcos arrived and after a quick introduction we headed out looking for others on the tour.
Tonight we were to meet our tour guides, tour participants and our guest of honor Bill Wingett.
At the reception dinner we listened to our tour guides Capt Ron Drez and Jake Powers. Ron was hand picked as a tour leader by Stephen Ambrose, he is also a well known author and he is a decorated Vietnam Vet, serving in the Marines and was part of the battle for Khe Sanh. He was instrumental in gathering information and conducting interviews with the men of 506th PIR/101st Airborne Easy Company. Ron’s passion for history is obvious from the moment he introduced himself you could tell that Military history and teaching others about it was very important to this man.
Jake Powers is the Official Easy Company Historian and was also the first honorary member of Easy Company. He has been researching these men and there lives for over twenty five years. He was also the Historical Consultant for the HBO mini-series and most importantly a friend to the men of Easy Company. Without Jake’s input and behind the scenes knowledge the tour would not have been what it was.
I also made a quick intro, letting everyone know that I was doing a story and that I had some free swag to anyone who was interested.
After my quick introduction our guest of honor Bill Wingett was introduced by Jake. Bill was one of the original members of Easy Company, he trained with them through all the tough times at Camp Toccoa before being transferred to Headquarters five days prior to D-Day. To this day he is unaware why he was transferred. Bill was incredible, he is into his mid 80′s and has the energy and quick witted humor of a 25 year old. He has many incredible stories about his experiences in World War II and we will cover many of those as well. Some of the greatest moments occurred when out of know where Bill would scream "Currahee" which means "We stand alone" and is the war cry that the men of the 101st used when jumping out of the C-47′s.
Click the thumbnails for larger images.
I can’t say enough about the great people I had the privilege of touring with, everyone was super friendly and everyone got along well. There was even an Elvis impersonator with us, he doubled as Bill Wingett’s guest.
After dinner a large thunderstorm rolled through and knocked out power to the hotel for 4-5 hours, we didn’t care. Everyone sat in the dining area sharing stories of their favorite war movie, Band of Brothers moment and just getting to know each other.
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