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Posted on Aug 17, 2007 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

In the Footsteps of Heroes

By Chad Weisensel

Day 14. Thursday May 24th. Kaprun and Zell am See Austria and dinner at the Eagles Nest.

Waking early we drove to Austria, it was a fairly short drive as we headed to Kaprun. Here we visited a castle where many men of Easy spent some of their last days. We also heard another story from Bill Wingett, here he told us of a time when he had to escort trains and how a Russian officer tried to board one of the trains. Bill and his squad were under strict order to not let anyone on the train. To make a long story short, Bill used his right foot to "remove" this man from the train. So begins the strained relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.

We then drove into Zell am See and the famous lake that the 101st did a drop into at the end of the war. Those of you that are fans of the show will remember Dick Winters used to swim in the this lake when stationed here and at one point was joined by his best friend Lewis Nixon. We had a brave young man named Aaron who decided to jump in as well. We found a dock and Aaron took the plunge as many of us yelled "Currahee" as he flew through the air. He did this just outside the 101st HQ in Austria.


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After another excellent lunch we headed back to Berchtesgaden to get ready for our farewell dinner.

All of us knew that driving to the top of the mountain was going to be fun, that evening about 2 hours before we were to hop on a special bus, equipped with extra large brakes for the trip up and down the mountain, a heavy thunderstorm rolled in. We watched as nearly every lightning strike appeared to hit the exact spot we were going. Some of us were nervous that the trip to the top and dinner was going to be cancelled. Today someone was watching out for us, maybe it was Easy Company Veteran Ronald Spiers who had passed away a few weeks prior to our tour commencing or maybe it was Dwight Eisenhower. Whoever it was cleared up the thunderstorm and we hopped aboard our new bus and headed up the mountain. As we started our climb the clouds started to break and the views we had took your breath away. I have always been afraid of heights but today I could not take my eyes away from the views we had. When we arrived at the entrance to Adolph Hitler’s Alpine retreat we all hopped out and looked over the edge of the mountain to see where we came from. We then made our way into the 406 foot long tunnel that took us to the golden colored elevator that took us 406 feet straight up into the Eagles Nest compound. The Eagles Nest was built as a gift for Adolph Hitler for his 50th Birthday it is some 6000 feet above sea level.. Even though he was afraid of heights and spent very little time here it is certainly one of the most famous attractions in the world. Tonight we had it all to ourselves. Before we sat down for our farewell dinner we were given an explanation into what it took to build this retreat. It is a feet of engineering for sure and the views are indescribable. When you walk around the retreat you can’t help but to feel a sense of evil that was here. Even though you try and put it out of your mind by looking out at the mountains or down at the cities some 6,000 feet below you, you still know that one of the most terrifying dictators made some decisions to kill millions of innocent people in the same room you are standing in.

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Many of us ventured outside to take as many photos of the retreat as possible, trying to get that one in a million shot. The rain clouds were now gone, replaced by a warming sun and a rainbow. We climbed even higher to take some photos looking down onto the Eagles Nest, the air was thin and the climb was somewhat nerve racking if you don’t like heights.

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After another excellent meal many of us started to say goodbye to those who were not going with us back to the states after the tour. We took the time to take some last pictures and then it was time to head back to the bus.

Day 15. Friday May 25th. Berchtesgaden to Munich and home.

Our bus was leaving at around 5am to get to the Munich airport, the hotel was nice enough to pack us a quick breakfast and most of us took more quick photos of the mountains before we hopped onto the bus. When we arrived at the airport in Munich everyone was ready to head home. While none of us wanted this tour to end, everyone was excited to be heading back to the good old USA. I for one was ready to get back home to see my wife and son. Many of us shared heartfelt and tearful goodbyes, we all lined up to say good bye to our veteran Bill Wingett. I gave Bill a hug and said "Thank you for everything you did , in the war and here with us." He said "Don’t thank me, thank my wife".

Ron and Judy had to catch a flight back to England and the rest of now without a leader had to get somehow get back to the states. If you recall earlier in the story about how the French were not guarding the port when we arrived and we were not able to get our passports stamped, well it bit us at this point. As we attempted to go through customs, the agents noticed that our passports had not been stamped. It appeared that we had never really arrived in Europe. As the agents started to send everyone away to go stand in another line I spoke up and told the agents what had happened, I showed them our itinerary as well as my Brittany Ferry pass that showed us arriving in France back on May 14th. After much discussion they made a phone call and someone arrived to punch us through and we were on our way. The flight from Munich to Atlanta was 10+ hours, I could not sleep again. After arriving in Atlanta I noticed that my bags had been tagged wrong and had to take them to Delta for reprocessing. I then said goodbye to those who remained from the tour and headed for my flight back to Milwaukee. In the Atlanta airport I noticed some young soldiers sitting and waiting for the Milwaukee flight, we started talking and I told them about my trip. I then listened to them describe their last year in Iraq. I shook their hands and thanked them for their service.

When I arrived in Milwaukee I was watching them load bags onto the 13 passenger plane that I was to board for Madison, I also noticed that my bags were nowhere to be found. When I finally made it to Madison I was without my bags but I was going to see my son and my wife for the first time in 2 weeks. I heard my son screaming "there’s daddy, there’s daddy" and the tears started to roll. I told him how much I loved him and mommy and he told me I could never go to Germany again!

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  1. Hi, this is a great page and i was in the same museum: bastogne Historical Center
    it was the greatest museum ever!!!!!!!!!

  2. Hello Chad glad you enjoyed your tour! I,m the Brit who has Harold Webb’s helmet,(to jog your memory) That your veteran kindly added his name to, He
    was a good man and i bet very entertaining company, Also in ,y collection is the jeep cap and shoulder eagle belonging to Ed pepping one of the medics
    from BoB bye for now Chris Freeman.

  3. Hello, this site is exactly what I have been searching for. I share your passion for these heroes and especially their campaigns. I know that Stephen Ambrose passed away, however, are these tours still going on or are people on their own when they visit these sites. Our WWII veterans are getting up there and I am not sure if they are still a part of the tours. In any event, thank you for publishing these wonderful comments and pics as well.


  4. Kathy please contact me on the forums. My name is Chad and I am under the name creeping death. Thanks for your interest and I can answer all your questions.

  5. I am trying to find out if my Grandfather is in the jake Power’s book about the 101st airborne in Normandy. My grandfather is now deceased but I do know that we was there that day and part of that unit. Can anyone help me check and validate and let me know if my Grandfather is in the book before i spend this kinbd of money on it that I really don’t have at this time. Thanks
    I can be emailed at Thanks

  6. Chad,

    What a great briefing you gave, thank you! My wife and I want to go on this tour this May, but we were wondering if anyone has been on the tour this past year 2009?? I talked to the folks at Stephen Ambrose tours and was told that they may not have an Easy Co veteran going this May, and they have Ron dong the tour by himself. So I wonder if the tour woudl still be a good thing?
    Thank you for any feedback.

  7. Hi Chad,

    Do you have an email address or better yet, a phone number where I can reach you to discuss a band of brothers trip? I heard from you some time ago but the email address that you used wouldn’t let me contact you again.