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Going Our Way: A son retraces his father's wartime journey through Europe

By Carol Sottili
Sunday, February 27, 2011; F03

When Sgt. Daniel F. Leahy died in 1991, his son, Dan, inherited a document that detailed the route across Europe that his father had traveled for 20 months as a soldier during World War II. Sgt. Leahy participated in some of the war's key battles and campaigns, and now his son wants to see the places in England, France, Belgium and Germany where his dad fought and served.

Leahy, 63, and his longtime friend Jim Gorman have set aside two weeks to visit as many stops along the elder Leahy's route as possible. Their plan is to fly from New York (Gorman lives in New Jersey) to London, returning from Berlin. Round-trip airfare was recently $1,030 per person.

Getting around the continent will be the most difficult issue. While Europe has an extensive rail system, taking trains to all these far-flung towns and villages will be problematic and sometimes impossible. But renting a car in London and dropping it off in Berlin is cost-prohibitive. A plane-train-automobile combo is the best way to go.

England

The elder Leahy was 28 when he shipped out on Feb. 13, 1944, as a member of the U.S. Army's 789th anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) automatic weapons battalion. He landed in England and was in Liverpool, Leek, Hanley, Poole and near London with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and in Dorset at Camp Blandford before being sent to Southampton for transport to Normandy.

London, the trip's first stop, offers many World War II museums and attractions. Public transportation from Heathrow Airport into town is best, as driving in the city is no fun. It's most economical to take the Underground's Piccadilly line (about $6.50). One hotel option is Vandon House Hotel (www.vandonhouse.com), which offers rooms starting at about $120 a night. The hotel is within striking distance of the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms (cwr.iwm.org.uk), the Imperial War Museum London (london.iwm.org.uk) and Winston Churchill's Britain at War Experience (www.britainatwar.co.uk). Admission to all will cost about $68. Spend a day at Bushy Park (www.royalparks.gov.uk), former site of SHAEF headquarters. Go to www.tfl.gov.uk to plan trips via public transport.

After two nights in London, rent a car and drive north to Liverpool. Holiday Autos (www.holidayautos.co.uk) has several locations and good rates; the cost should be about $150 for two full days with final drop-off in Southampton. The Premier Inn West Derby (www.premierinn.com) costs about $77 a night. Visit the Liverpool War Museum (www.liverpoolwarmuseum.co.uk); the next morning, drive through the towns of Leek and Hanley before heading south to Poole and Southampton. The Premier Inn Southampton Airport (see Web site above) is about $110 per night. Check out Royal Victoria Country Park (www3.hants.gov.uk/countryside/rvcp), site of a former military hospital, and the Museum of Army Flying (www.armyflying.com). For more info, go to www.visitengland.us.

Fly from Southampton to Paris Orly on Flybe (www.flybe.com); one-way fare should be about $65.

France

To get from the airport to Paris, which is worth a two-night stay, take the Orlyval shuttle train to the Antony Station and transfer to the RER B line (cost should be about $37 for two). Get off at the Chatelet Les Halles station and walk to the Best Western Ducs de Bourgogne (www.bestwestern.com), which is about $180 a night. Not-to-be-missed activities include a two-hour $17 World War II walking tour of Paris (www.paris-tours.net). For other options, contact Paris Tourism, en.parisinfo.com.

When you're ready to head to Normandy, rent a car. Hertz's Carrousel-Louvre rental office is close to the hotel; cost for a two-day rental of a small car with manual transmission starts at $230 if you drop the car off in Brussels.

Sgt. Leahy missed the D-Day invasion of June 1944, but he was assigned to Normandy for more than a month in the fall of that year. A night or two at a town near the beaches of Normandy, such as Bayeux, is in order. Hotel de Sainte Croix (www.hotel-de-sainte-croix.com) has rooms for about $117. There are dozens of museums and sites associated with World War II, including the Utah Beach Landing Museum (www.utah-beach.com/uk) and the D-Day Museum (www.musee-arromanches.fr). For a complete list, contact Normandy Tourism (www.normandy-tourism.org).

There are no cheap air tickets to Belgium, so keep the car and make the five-hour drive to Brussels.

Belgium

Sgt. Leahy saw serious action in Belgium defending Antwerp from relentless attack by German V-1 bombs. A description of the 154-day "Battle of the Buzz Bombs" in a 1945 Army pamphlet offers vivid recollections: "It is impossible to convey the constant tension from being bombarded day and night for five months without relief - the ever present fear that came from healthy respect - the aching tiredness from eternal work - the mud of the low countries - the freezing hours in gun pits 24 hours around."

From there, Sgt. Leahy fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where 19,000 American soldiers were killed.

Brussels is centrally located to Bousse, Leir, Liege and several other towns where Sgt. Leahy served. Stay in the city (NH Stephanie, www.nh-hotels.com, at $113 a night is one choice) or closer to World War II sites (in Waterloo, Le 1815 Hotel, www.le1815.be, at $130 a night).

Visit the La Roche Museum of the Battle of the Ardennes (www.batarden.be) and the Memorial of the Mardasson, built to honor American soldiers. For more ideas, go to the Visit Belgium site, www.visitbelgium.com, and look under "Our Cities" for Bastogne.

Germany

Sgt. Leahy entered Germany just two weeks before Hitler committed suicide (April 30, 1945) and then spent several months participating in mop-up operations in several far-flung German towns. Visiting those villages plus Berlin is stretching a two-week trip too thin.

Since Berlin is a priority, drop off the car in Brussels and take a flight on Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) to Berlin Schoenefeld airport (fare is about $40 one way). The Airport Express train runs into the city (about $4). Hotel Pension Classic Berlin (www.classic-hotel-berlin.de) offers rooms starting at $80 a night. Original Berlin Walks (www.berlinwalks.com) offers a three-hour Infamous Third Reich Sites tour for about $16. For more sightseeing info, go to Visit Berlin, www.visitberlin.de.

Total cost: International and intra-Europe airfare will cost at least $1,135 per person. Hotels will run about $1,400 with taxes. Land transportation should cost about $800 including gas. Budget $180 per person for attraction admission fees. This leaves about $78 per person per day for food and incidentals.

Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to washingtonpost.com/goingourway.

Who: Dan Leahy, 63, of Manassas, and his friend Jim Gorman, 63, of Ocean City, N.J.

Where: England, France, Belgium and Germany

Why: To follow the path Leahy's father traveled across Europe as a soldier during World War II

When: Early July for about two weeks

Budget: $7,000

"My dad died in 1991. He was a WWII Army vet. He left me a unit history that recounts all the locations he passed through during the war. I would like to retrace that journey. We also want to see Berlin."

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