Belgium – Veterans laid wreaths in ceremonies across southern Belgium and Luxembourg Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, which crushed Nazi Germany’s last bid to reverse the rapid advance of allied forces toward Berlin.
The commemorations marking World War II’s largest land battle were held at memorials and cemeteries across a wide swath of the hilly and wooded Ardennes region, which was turned into a battlefield on that bitterly cold winter in 1944.
More than a million troops – 600,000 Germans, 500,000 Americans and 55,000 Britons – fought in the snow from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945.
Night vigils were held at several places along the serpentine front. There was also a brief memorial service at the Mardasson Memorial near Bastogne, the town that was surrounded by Germans whose offensive created a ‘bulge’ around the town and threatened to cut it off.
Erected in 1950, the memorial is a vast star-shaped monument that stands 12 meters (40 feet tall) and honors the memory of American soldiers who were killed and wounded during the Ardennes offensive. On Saturday, it will be the venue of the main commemoration ceremony attended by King Albert II of Belgium and Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ahead of the event, U.S. Ambassador Tom Korologos said the Battle of the Ardennes represented a ‘living message.’
‘It is as relevant for our youth as for the veterans who fought. That message is that freedom must be continually defended against forces that seek to subvert it,’ he added.
‘Whether against a totalitarian state in 1944 that sought to destroy democracy in the name of a repugnant philosophy, or against global terrorism today that seeks to destroy Western ideas.’
The Mardasson memorial bears the names of U.S. Army units that participated in the action as well as the names of the then 48 U.S. states in bronze letters. Bastogne is central to commemoration events. Several roads converged at the town in 1944, making it critical to blocking the German advance.
On Friday, a parade of 300 World War II-era military vehicles will trek through the town’s narrow streets, passing by the town square named for Anthony MacAuliffe, the acting commander of the 101st Airborne whose paratroopers repulsed repeated attacks.