WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 17, 2012) -- Veterans of what became the greatest land battle in the history of the U.S. Army gathered at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 16, to remember and pay tribute to the 19,000 Soldiers who didn't return home from the Battle of the Bulge, which raged in Europe from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945.
Sons, daughters and grandchildren accompanied the former Soldiers, who are all in their 80s and 90s, to the memorial where wreaths were presented by the ambassadors of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In a follow-on ceremony, a wreath was laid at the Tomb of the Unknowns by the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.
John D. Bowen, vice president of the Battle of the Bulge Historical Foundation and recording secretary of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, said about 88 veterans and family members attended the wreath-laying. He noted that while there are about 3,000 Bulge veterans around the country, there are another 1,500 who are associate members. Associates include family members and anyone who has an interest in the battle.
"We have more and more sons and daughters coming to these events," Bowen said. "The benefit to them is that when the veterans get together, they talk among themselves about their experiences, then they open up more to their children who haven't heard their stories."
Aside from being the most territorially expansive battle of World War II, stretching along the Siegfried Line from The Netherlands border to Belgium and Luxembourg, the Battle of the Bulge was fundamentally Adolph Hitler's final offensive at stopping the Allied drive into Germany.
The battle occurred during one of the coldest winters on record in Europe.
"That was a cold, cold winter in '44 and '45," said Mike Levin, 93, who fought with the 7th Armored Division in the Bulge.
The battle pitted roughly 610,000 Allied troops against 500,000 Axis soldiers. Had the German army been able to encircle the four American armies, Hitler had intended to sue for a negotiated peace. The Reich however failed, losing more than 85,000 troops. In the process, the Allies liberated Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as France, during one of the coldest winters in Europe.
Jan Matthysen, the Belgian ambassador said recognizing the Soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Bulge was a celebration that his country does every year by laying a wreath at Arlington and hosting a Christmas party for the veterans at the embassy.
"This is a small part of the celebration we do every year in Bastogne where our monument of the Battle of the Bulge stands and where Belgian school children learn the American anthem," he said. "Each and every young generation continues to commemorate those Soldiers."
Luxembourg ambassador Jean-Louis Wolzfeld said the only battle his country experienced during World War II was the Battle of the Bulge, but it was the outcome of that battle which allowed his country to regain its sovereignty after five years of suffering under Germany.
"We have always since then throughout generations been very grateful to those young American men and women who did not hesitate to cross the Atlantic far from their own country to save us in a very selfless manner," Wolzfeld said. "We have enormous gratitude to the Americans who participated in that operation."
In honor of the price paid for Luxembourg's freedom, the U.S was granted 50 acres for a cemetery where more than 5,000 American service members are buried, including Gen. George S. Patton Jr.