The Battle of the Bulge veterans as seen had earlier received a standing ovation lasting around a minute during the ceremony, 16 December 2019. Photo: SIP/Charles Caratini
Photo: SIP/Charles Caratini
Hundreds attended the ceremony at the Luxembourg American cemetery in Hamm on Monday afternoon to pay their respects to the brave soldiers who fought 75 years ago in the Battle of the Bulge.
It was the last German offensive on the western front, lasting from 16 December 1944 through 25 January 1945, a battle which General George S. Patton himself called his “biggest battle”.
For the Americans, there were over 75,000 casualties, with over 19,000 killed. The harsh weather conditions that winter also caused reduced visibility, and many of the wounded soldiers in the battle froze to death, with others having to be treated for frost-related injuries. The soldiers had an “indomitable spirit despite the adversary they faced,” US secretary of defence Mark T. Esper acknowledged in his speech, calling the soldiers the “group of heroes who still walk among us.”
Around a dozen veterans attended Monday’s ceremony, and Esper spoke to them directly. “For a moment in history the fate of the free world rested on their shoulders, rested on your shoulders.”
Grand Duke Henri reminded attendees that the battle was “a terrible price paid by all,” adding that 600 civilians died in Luxembourg and there were tens of thousands to perish on both sides of the battle.
He added, “The Battle of the Bulge was a decisive moment before the total collapse of the Nazi regime. It was ‘the greatest American battle of the Second World War’, as Winston Churchill called it, but it remains first and foremost a tragedy.”
Both Grand Duke Henri and prime minister Xavier Bettel reminded attendees that some countries which had been enemies during the war are today friends. Bettel added there had never been “such a long peace period as we have today, and we should never forget the darkest hour lived on our continent.”
The service opened with an invocation and a flyover which included four F-16 fighter jets from the nearby Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Germany and ended with a wreath laying ceremony, 21 gun salute, taps and the anthems of Europe, Luxembourg and the United States.
Some lingered afterwards to visit General Patton’s grave, walk through the cemetery to pay their respects, and to thank the veterans and service members on site. The moments echoed Grand Duke Henri's words when he said “it is the solemnity of this cemetery that affects us most. We are humbled by this place of contemplation, silence, remembrance, and prayer.”