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OUR INHERITANCE Past, Present and Future Part 15
by Loretta Leonard
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Location: Deep within the Ardennes Forest

The Story
Rain poured down in steady sheets and the red clay ground became muddy, so muddy that boots sunk into the soggy ground and stuck to the bottom of each boot making it heavier to walk with each step. The men were moving slowly and cautiously into the forest and had a mission that involved moving into the German border.

On this particular night, the troop was particularly alert. There was tension in the air as everyone came close to the enemy camp. After the bloody “mess” at Malmedy no one wanted to get caught off guard.

The shadows of the evening began to move into the light spaces where the sun had once streaked through. Daylight was ending and there wouldn’t be much more time to move before the really deep darkness settled in. The type of darkness that was so black that it was impossible to see the stars in the midnight sky. The slight rushing sound of a creek nearby caught everyone’s attention as they listened for any hint that someone was nearby. Everything seemed okay for now.

The troop continued to move even deeper into the woods. There was no sound except the falling rain and the rustle of the tree branches as the rain fell on the leaves. Deciding to take a much needed break the troop stopped along the way. Guns were propped along the trees and one soldier was appointed as a look out. Two other soldiers were to stand guard duty. Germans who infiltrated the area were infamous for using a thin wire tightly looped around the neck to kill anyone. It was a technique that everyone knew. Soundless and very effective, the Germans could overtake someone quickly and then stealthily enter into an area occupied by Allies. Caution was the key word for this evening.

“Halt! What’s the code word?” One guard moved clockwise around the perimeter of the camp; the other guard moved in a counterclockwise direction. The approach of the guards had to be verified and without knowing the code word, no one was allowed to pass. That was the only way to be absolutely certain that the soldier was American and not a German trying to gain a foothold into the camp. The machine gun soldiers were stationed around the farthest point of the perimeter; the gun artillery crew was stationed further inside. This double circle of protection kept the infiltrating line of men safe and assured a better chance of overtaking the Germans without many casualties.

The guards continued to walk the perimeter while the on-duty sergeant watched for any indication that the camp had been compromised. The Sergeant dropped to his knees and fell flat on his stomach. There were two lights shining in the distance, both from slightly different sections of the woods. Glancing in another direction three or four more lights flickered through the dark night. This was no time to take any chances. Slipping between the artillery crew and the machine gun perimeter, the Sergeant called out to identify himself to the machine gun crew. “My name is Dave Brown. I don’t know what is going on, but there are lights in the woods ahead.” The machine gun crew tensed and the lights in the distance glowed brighter as the rain fell harder. A sound off to the right startled everyone and the inexperienced soldier from West Virginia shot off a round of shots.

Inside Furstenau Castle just a few yards away German soldiers heard the gunfire and rather than return fire, they left quickly. They had already suffered many losses and the small group inside wasn’t large enough to take on a platoon or large group of Americans.
Leaving behind everything they headed out the back and off into the woods where they would quickly blend into the background.

After the scary reaction and shots near camp everyone decided it was time to see if they could exactly determine what it was that still kept glowing. The lights would pop up in different places in the woods and it took a while before we made the connection. Small pieces of wood chips on the ground that covered the floor of the forest were glowing at our feet. It seemed that for some reason they were glowing, maybe because of the rain. The luminescent glow became intense and if it was off in the woods it became a real distraction, a distraction that could compromise the American location in the forest.

Recognizing that everything was safe, the troop moved forward to the lights from a building on the top of a hill. Binoculars searched the area for any signs of life but it looked deserted.

“Looks like a good place to make camp for the night. Let’s see if everything is clear,” stated the Sergeant.

Reaching their destination the soldiers discovered that the Germans had just left only a few moments ago. The fire was still burning in the fireplace and the settings on the dinner table were hastily moved and scattered. Guns, rifles, and Nazi knives were in the room. The shots that rang out earlier had scared the Germans and rather than fight they had decided to leave the area.

And so on that night near the town of Michelstadt the American soldiers spent a night in the castle. Warm and dry after the rain of the evening they were able to actually tour the castle, enjoy some wine and cognac, and actually experience a little of the luxurious life of nobility. It was a night with many memories and as a souvenir of that evening everyone was able to bring something lightweight home to the states. Just another adventure during the war.
EXPLANATION: Research shows that the glowing chips are actually caused by mushrooms and fungi that help to decay wood. The greenish glow is called “foxfire” and can usually be seen in very dark and moist environments. The term “bioluminescent” is the scientific term to describe the phenomenon. The chips can glow for anywhere between one to two weeks making it easy to locate.

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