Roaming Through WWII History From Currahee to Berchtesgaden

Roaming Through WWII History From Currahee to Berchtesgaden

May 06, 2018 0 Comments

A Hike Up Currahee Comes Full Circle In A Quest to Retrace the Steps of the Famed Easy Company

By Cecil Sanders | IG: @cecilsandersphotography

After several days of nonstop rain we woke to blue skies with wispy clouds drifting lazily over the Appalachian Mountains in North Georgia. It was a day we had long been looking forward to as we were finally going to climb Currahee, and see the beginning of what was a long arduous journey for members of the famed Band of Brothers, Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, in World War II.

Utah Beach, objective for D-Day was to secure guns near Sainte Marie-du-Mont behind location of this photo.

Utah Beach. Objective for D-Day was to secure guns near Sainte Marie-du-Mont behind location of this photo.

 

Normandy American Cemetery

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War II cemetery and memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, that honors American troops who died in Europe during World War II. 

 

Several years prior, my wife and I, and members of her family, traveled to Europe and explored a number of different countries in Western Europe. On that trip we went to Normandy where the Band of Brothers from Toccoa had jumped as part of the Allied landing, and then to Aldbourne, England, the place where they regrouped for a brief period after D-Day and before Operation Market Garden. Later in the trip we traveled to the Bois Jacques woods near Bastogne, Belgium, the epicenter of the Battle of the Bulge. Members of the famed group dug into fox holes on a ridge overlooking the town of Foy, Belgium, where their German counterpart shelled them mercilessly during the cold winter of 1944-45. Later in our European vacation we explored Berchtesgaden and Obersalzburg the location of elite Nazis in the Bavarian Alps, including the remains of the home of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. All of these locations were highlighted in Steven Spielberg's, Band of Brothers series released in 2001.

Carentan, France

The Battle of Carentan was an engagement in World War II between airborne forces of the United States Army and the German Wehrmacht during the Battle of Normandy. The battle took place between 10 and 15 June 1944, on the approaches to and within the city of Carentan, France. 

 

The Bois Jacque Woods, Belgium, Battle of the Bulge

The American 101st Airborne Division held the Bois Jacques or Jacques Woods, up a slight rise outside Foy.

 

On the ridgeline above Foy, Belgium where Easy Company endured heavy shelling from the Germans.

In World War II, Foy was heavily occupied by German forces during the Battle of the Bulge. The U.S. 101st Airborne Division held the Bois Jacques just outside town. 

 

Of the major locales featured in the series the one we had yet to visit was just down the road from where I grew up, Currahee Mountain in Toccoa, Georgia. A few years earlier I had visited the Stephens County Museum that showcased a great collection of WWII memorabilia: guns, photos, uniforms, an original silk parachute, and even the stables that the Band of Brothers stayed in while waiting for their next jump, which had been shipped all the way from England. Our destination on this day was the hill known as a Currahee (a Cherokee Native American word which translates to: “We Stand Alone, Together”).

The beautiful view Adolf Hitler and top Nazi's enjoyed while planning the mass destruction of Jews, political prisoners, communists and many other 'undesirable peoples'.

Adolf Hitler had been vacationing in the Berchtesgaden area since the 1920s. He purchased a home in the Obersalzberg above the town. As other top Nazi Party leaders such as Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, and Albert Speer began to frequent the area the Party began to purchase and requisition land in the Obersalzberg.

 

The bombed out remains of Hitlers Berghof in Obersalzburg.

The Berghof was Adolf Hitler's home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany.

 

The trail up the mountain is now a gravel road wide enough for logging trucks. As we began our ascent the voice of Easy Company Captain Sobel echoed through my head, “3 miles up, 3 miles down.” I visualized Winters, Malarkey, Lipton, Guarnere and other members of Easy Company as they briskly marched up through the hot and dense forest of hardwoods and lush ground covering. We passed by the Camp Toccoa barracks and continued up, down, then back up the National Forest road known as Colonel Sink Trail.

 

Camp Toccoa, at the base of Currahee.

Camp Toccoa (formerly Camp Toombs) was a United States Army paratrooper training camp during World War II five miles (eight kilometers) west of Toccoa, Georgia.

 

Viewpoints of the surrounding communities soon became clear as we continued up the gradual elevation. My mind constantly worked between the present and the past. What were these guys thinking? Were they excited, scared, eager for victory over their enemy, or simply hoping to stay alive? Did they sign up for this volunteer group of fighters for the money, for the glory, or because they wouldn’t be grouped with drafted infantry who in their words “couldn’t be depended on” in the chaos of combat?

View of the surrounding communities.

The view near the top of Currahee looking out across north Georgia.

 

“Hi Ho Silver,” I softly mumbled to myself on the incline (a phrase used by the hated Captain Sobel). Sweat formed on my back in the warm sunny spring air. We were only sparsely shaded by tall oaks and pines. My sister, father, wife, and I continued on the incline. A slight ache formed in my legs, breathing became a bit more heavy, stiffness set in. For us, this hike didn’t include burdens the men of Easy Company had to bear: full packs (weighing nearly 100 lbs.), a rifle, and combat fatigues.

We reached the top after approximately three miles on this easily navigable and clear trail. Many people choose to drive to the top. We wanted the full experience as well as the exercise.

'Art' on the rocks at Currahee.

'Art' on the historical Currahee Mountain.

 

I was very disappointed at the top, not by the view of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, but by the trash and graffiti. I assume that is to be expected when people are able to drive and hang out, without enduring the trip up. People would be less inclined to bring spray cans, bags of chips and beer bottles if they hiked it. The quality of ‘art’ spray painters left on the rocks was poor as well. If people knew Currahee’s history, maybe they wouldn’t be as apt to desecrate the natural beauty and unique historical setting with neon depictions of flaccid weiners, their names and other so-called pieces of art. I wish local government and society would condemn this pollution.

More 'art' atop Currahee.

More 'art' on the rocks. :|

 

Despite my ranting, I will say that this hike is worth the effort. For maximum impact, first watch Band of Brothers and visit the Stephens County Museum, and this hike will be more meaningful. Currahee was a bonding experience for Easy Company members, and Currahee remained with them through the war and after.

 

 




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