In a world crowded with tour guides and historians offering battlefield tours, what makes the tour guides at Knee Deep Into History unique? “Approach” would be my one-word answer. One definition on the Mirriam-Webster website defines approach as: “the taking of preliminary steps toward a particular purpose” or “a particular manner of taking such steps.” By focusing on the early years, I’d like to take a look at some of those preliminary steps that got us to the position of tour guides, starting with me, Randy Gaulke.
My first tour of the battlefields occurred while studying in Germany in 1986. It was a tour of Flanders and the Somme led by Lt. Col. Graham Parker of Flanders Tours. He introduced me to the Western Front Association, a U.K.-based group. Through the WFA I made many international connections, and I ultimately learned about the Deutsches Erinnerungskommittee Argonnerwald, a German group that researches and explores the remains of WW1 in the Argonne Forest. In 1994 I participated in my first work weekend with the DEA; met Markus Klauer, who became Vice President later and for nearly 10 years; and developed my passion for the Meuse-Argonne. On more than twenty trips between 1986 and 2016 I visited most of the Western Front, but my passion remained the American battlefields. In 2017 I stepped out of the corporate world and lived in France for six months as a freelance tour guide. I did another two months in 2018. The benefits of being “in country” for such a long time were great: I got to know the terrain, found hidden treasures, and made strong local connections. In parallel, I did considerable research on both German and American units to support my vacations and 2017-18 tours. (Thanks, Mark Romanych, for introducing me to the Griffin Group photos!)
Markus Klauer’s passion for WW1 started in 1983 when a friend invited him to visit Verdun. After that first visit, Markus regularly returned to Verdun and the Argonne. He joined the DEA in 1991 and served as Vice President for nearly a decade, which allowed him to build strong local connections—especially with government authorities. In 2001 the first two of the five WW1 books he has written in German were published. These focused on the Verdun battles of Hill 304 and Dead Man’s Hill (Mort Homme). Markus’ passion for Verdun and the Argonne remains high. Most recently, on 11 November 2019 he and two other Germans received Bronze Medals from the City of Verdun for their multi-year efforts toward international understanding and reconciliation. One action that led to this was his work, as writer and historian, on a series of ten signs that the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung installed on a newly created trail on Mort Homme known as “Chemins Franco-Allemand.” (https://meuse-argonne.com/?p=2731). Yet, Markus’ passion for military history extends to other geographies and to WW2 as well. He is very active in the French association, Les Amis de l’ilot de la Boisselle, an association which preserves an above- and below-ground portion of the Somme Battlefield. Since retiring from the Bundeswehr Markus has also undertaken significant research into WW2 battles, including Sedan 1940, Normandy, the Ardennes 1944 and Seelow 1945. Brevity requires me to stop now, but much more could be written about Markus’ accomplishments. Those interested, can use Google Translate to read the “about me” section of his website: https://weltkriegsbuch.de/markus-klauer/ueber-mich. It is worth the read!
Graham is a college student who just turned 21. However, he has been visiting the battlefields of Europe with his father since he was eight years old. He is a chip off the old block, except that his primary interest is WW2. That is a good thing, because numerous family vacations to Normandy, the Ardennes, Alsace, and Berlin have helped Dad broaden his horizons. Like Dad and Markus, Graham’s battlefield exploration activities are rooted heavily in research. Before he graduated from high school, Graham and a friend had formed a WW2 reenacting unit. But what is more unique is that, in June 2019, Graham and a group of international friends visited Karelia, the region in Russia / Finland (depending on time period), where that unit spent most of the war. That is not an easy part of the world to reach! We anticipate that Graham and Dad will lead a tour of Nazi “Wunderwaffen” production sites in Thuringia, Germany in 2021, another one of his interest areas!
What makes the tour guides at Knee Deep Into History unique? On https://kneedeepintohistory.com/philosophy/ we emphasize a focus on: 1) getting clients into the field; 2) favoring the small-group tour concept; 3) gearing tours for those with an interest in military history; 4) exploring and explaining both sides of the story; and 5) helping our clients bridge cultures. After reading the above paragraphs, it should be clear how this philosophy developed. Join us on a tour and get knee deep into history!
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