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Flanders Fields Takes on New Meaning for Journalist who Discovers the Past.

May 22, 2014 Headline News, Travel Talk RADIO No Comments Email Email

unnamed (7)I was in London this past year at one of the largest travel exhibits in the world called World Travel Market when I met Dr. Peter DeWilde, the CEO of Flanders Tourism.

We were both participating in the International Institute for Peace through Tourism award ceremony. As a board member, I was accepting an award for the work Airline Ambassadors International does for children around the world and Peter was busy spreading the good word about the upcoming 4 year campaign to honor Flanders Fields and experiencing the colorful culture of Belgium.

I couldn’t wait to learn more about the commemoration because of my personal connection to World War I, which by the way, is often referred to as, the Great War. As a travel journalists and a first generation American, my parents were Belgians from the villages of Ruiselede and Marie Alter in Flanders. My father was born in1902 and had lived through World War I. unnamed (8)

That fact was Dr. DeWilde’s comments were extremely compelling and coupled with my insatiable curiosity on the subject, I decided to make another trip to Belgium to see for myself the effects of The Great War. I have been to Belgium many times but this trip turned out to be the most enlightening and endearing to me. Previously, I had been to my parent’s villages and sat in my father’s home where he said his last good bye to his Mother in 1919. However, I was still hungry for more knowledge about those dark years where 8 million people lost their lives.

My father was just 12 when WWI broke out. German soldiers moved into his family home in Ruiselede and life was forever changed. Perhaps the most memorable part of all his stories was the fact he never criticized the young German soldiers who he said were only doing what they were told to do and they were alone in a strange country without their mothers and fathers, a fact that struck my father very deeply as a young boy. Even during the course of the 4 years, when my Grandmother hid my father in the hay in the back of the house for weeks because the boys were being taken to the front, my father never harbored any hate for the invading army.

During my latest visit to Belgium, I thought of my father often as I visited every museum and cemetery possible related to WWI.  My dear friend and colleague Donald Buyze, who is from Wervik and a WWI historian, was my travel guide and host. During our time together, I created hours of footage and shot over 500 photos which are being incorporated into a documentary and will be used as a guide for those who want to travel to Belgium to see for themselves the very grounds where 50 nations changed the course of the war.

One of the must sees is the haunting Red Star Line museum in Antwerp where visitors can find their ancestors names and how they emigrated from so many countries around Europe and beyond.  The museum is housed in the actual buildings where immigrants where processed for their Atlantic ocean voyage. If you are on a river cruise in the area, Antwerp is a port where visitors will see the Red Star Line Museum just a few steps from their ship. A day trip to Flanders Fields is easy and doable from Antwerp.

Visiting the cemeteries in Waregem, Poperinge and Wervik and observing the emotional Last Post which happens each night in Ipers was just part of my experience. I also stayed a night at the Talbot House where weary British soldiers came for a night or two of respite. It brought home the actual experience of these young men and seasoned soldiers.

As a part of my coverage, I interviewed Dr. Peter DeWilde, on BusinessTravelRADIO. An historian, professor and clearly one of Europe’s tourism leaders.  Dr. Wilde shared his personal journey as a history professor with an emphasis on understanding how studying history gives us the opportunity to learn from mistakes and most importantly, not to repeat those mistakes.

First in a series of articles by Sandy Dhuyvetter, Host TravelTalkRADIO and BusinessTravelRADIO

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