By Brandon BieltzDecember 22, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Dec. 22, 2011) -- Fifteen veterans from the largest and bloodiest battle of World War II surrounded a granite memorial dedicated to their service in the Battle of the Bulge and their fallen comrades.
Three of the veterans carried a wreath of red, white and blue flowers and placed it in front of the memorial.
Located behind the Fort Meade Museum, the memorial was the first of two stops visited by the veterans and their families on Dec. 15 -- one day before the anniversary of the start of the 1944 battle. More than 30 veterans and family members also strolled through the museum and visited the Battle of the Bulge Room at the Medal of Honor Memorial Library, which includes artifacts from the war and a conference table made of trees from the Ardennes region where the battle was fought.
The battle, which lasted from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945, was fought in the forested Ardennes mountain region in Belgium. The major German offensive near the end of the war was aimed to split the Allied line of the American and British troops.
In addition to the cold Belgium winter, Soldiers fought through several snowstorms in the Ardennes forests, which prevented air support and the ability to move in supplies. Although the Allies won the battle, there were nearly 90,000 American casualties -- 19,000 of whom were killed.
J. David Bailey, president of the Battle of the Bulge Historical Foundation, fought at the cusp of the battle on Dec. 16 in the Ardennes Forest and Eifel mountains.
"We had poor intelligence at the time, and our supply line was cut off, and we had no air support," he recalled. "We were caught completely by surprise."
On the first days of the battle, Bailey said, his unit was outnumbered five to one. But the Soldiers continued to hold their ground.
"We withstood the enemy for three days," he said. "Those three days were important from the standpoint that it allowed other troops and reinforcements to come in. We didn't fall like straw in the wind."
Fort Meade's memorial, which was dedicated in 1999, is located at the museum because of its primary focus on the heavily involved First Army.
In addition to laying a wreath at Fort Meade, the group also planned on making the trip to Arlington National Cemetery to lay another wreath.
"The purpose of the wreath is to remember those who are gone," said retired Lt. Col. Alfred H.M. Shehab. "We're honoring them for their service to the country."
Shehab, who was a lieutenant when he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, said a group of veterans from the battle make the trip to Fort Meade every year to spend time with fellow service members and to keep the memory of the battle alive.
"The purpose is to perpetuate the history and the meaning of the battle as far as the liberty of the country," Shehab said. "The main thing is the camaraderie -- getting together and chatting,"
While at the museum and library, the veterans shared stories about their experiences in the battle along with photos and mementos.
"It's kind of nostalgic," said George Watson, veteran. "You remember a lot of things you thought you've forgotten."
Watson, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., has made the trip with his friend Mack McAuliffe of Wooster, Ma., three or four times. The two men were part of Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army, 87th Division.
"It's very nice. It's very comprehensive," Watson said of the trip. "It's a good show."
After laying the wreath in front of the memorial, Shehab said the brief ceremony showed the price of freedom.
"Is it going to the shopping mall? Is it taking the day off?" Shehab asked. "Or is it spending a few moments to remember those who gave their lives so our flag could fly high and we could continue to live in freedom?"