By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2004 -- Citizens of Luxembourg and Belgium joined veterans of the Battle of the Bulge here today to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening day of the battle and to honor the 19,000 U.S. soldiers who died during what proved to be one of the largest and bloodiest encounters of World War II.
Snow-covered crosses honor 5,000 fallen U.S. servicemembers at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial. Photo by Bill Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image); high-resolution image available.
In the cold, fog-shrouded Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, the veterans paid tribute to 5,000 of their comrades buried here following what Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledged were their "most terrible days."
Juncker praised the "courageous young men" who endured what many said felt like overwhelming odds to free Luxembourg from five years of German occupation. "This is a day to pay tribute and to show our deepest gratitude," he told the veterans.
The prime minister vowed to pass the story of the courage demonstrated by the U.S. military on to future generations. "We must never forget" the debt Luxembourg owes the United States for "the sacrifices made by young American GIs" on its behalf, Juncker told the veterans and their families.
U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Peter Terpeluk delivered a proclamation from President Bush thanking the veterans of the Battle of the Bulge for their critical role in defeating Nazi Germany and freeing Europe from tyranny. "When it mattered most, the entire generation of Americans showed the finest qualities of our nation and humanity," the president wrote.
George Checken, president of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge organization, spoke for his fellow veterans during the ceremony in recalling "those dark days when we stood together and fought toward victory."
He called the 60th anniversary of the battle's opening day a fitting time "to pay homage to our comrades who made the supreme sacrifice" and told his fellow veterans, "We know you have not forgotten them."
Checken said the veterans of the Battle off the Bulge will also never forget the tragic scenes they witnessed -- nor the friendships they forged, between soldiers and between nations. "Thank you for remembering us," Checken told the Luxembourgers and Belgians at the ceremony. "We will never forget you."
The ceremony at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial included a 21-gun salute by the Luxembourg army and a wreath-laying to honor the fallen veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.
A flyover initially planned for the ceremony was cancelled due to thick fog. Ironically, U.S. air support for ground troops during the first days of the Battle of the Bulge was scrapped 60 years ago because of similar inclement weather conditions.
The ceremony here was among dozens of commemorations today throughout Luxembourg and Belgium observing the opening day of the Battle of the Bulge. The first events began at 5:30 a.m., exactly 60 years after 250,000 Germans launched their surprise attack on Dec. 16, 1944.
Earlier today, Secretary of the Air Force Jim Roche and Luxembourg's two crown princes, Prince Guillaume and Prince Felix, participated in a memorial service at Schumann Crossroads, one of the bloodiest sites of the Battle of the Bulge.
A National Liberation Memorial at the spot honors the U.S. soldiers who endured three weeks of brutal fighting at the spot as they worked to loosen the German army's grip on the strategic crossroads, and the thousands who died there.
Pierre Brosien, president of the National Liberation Memorial Association, recalled "the scene of horror" many Battle of the Bulge veterans lived through at the site and thanked them for their bravery and endurance.
"We were lucky to be liberated by you," agreed John Milmeister, secretary of the National Liberation Memorial Association. "Thanks to you, we in Western Europe are living in liberty and prosperity."
Nico Loes, mayor of Schumann, thanked the veterans for "your courage, your determination and your tenacity" in freeing Luxembourg from oppression. "We owe you one of the most precious commodities on this earth: freedom," he said. "Luxembourg will never forget what you have done for us."
"We live in freedom because of you," Roche told the veterans gathered at the memorial, noting that they hold "a place of honor in the history of civilization" that continues to inspire others today
Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge called today's ceremonies a time of reflection and healing.
Alfred Grossenbacher, a private first class with the 28th Infantry Division during the battle, called his visit to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial an opportunity to honor his fallen comrades. "I thought the loss and the pain was over, but it's not," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "They're the ones who allowed me to come home."
Michael Samberg, a private with the 26th "Yankee" Infantry Division during the battle, said he's worked through the sadness and the apologies he feels toward his comrades who died. "Now I'm here to honor them and their memories," he said. Looking back, Samberg said he's proud the actions he and his fellow soldiers took at the Battle of the Bulge. "When I look back at the contribution I was able to make, I feel that in some little way, I helped to make the world a better place," he said.