Bastogne Rolls Out Red Carpet for Battle of Bulge Vets
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BASTOGNE, Belgium, Dec. 18, 2004 A carnival-like atmosphere here today celebrated the U.S. Army's victory over Nazi oppressors 60 years ago.
Flowers honor Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, who replied
"Nuts!" when ordered by Adolph Hitler to surrender here 60 years ago. Photo by
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It contrasted sharply with a solemn ceremony at the Mardasson Memorial overlooking the city honoring the more than 76,000 U.S. soldiers killed, wounded or missing in action during the Battle of the Bulge.
Downtown Bastogne was abuzz with excitement and activity honoring the 60th anniversary of the battle. Residents rolled out the red carpet for returning Battle of the Bulge veterans -- and anyone who appeared to be American.
U.S. and Belgian flags flew side by side throughout the city. Storefronts featured signs of thanks honoring the 101st Airborne Division, the unit that fought on against the Germans despite being heavily outnumbered and surrounded.
Groups from throughout the city donned World War II-vintage U.S. Army uniforms bearing the 101st Airborne Division patch, and a convoy of World War II-era U.S. military vehicles paraded through the city streets during the town's annual Nuts Festival.
Hats, T-shirts and posters bore the now-famous term "Nuts," that one-word relay U.S. Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe issued when Adolph Hitler called for his surrender here 60 years ago.
McAuliffe, in temporary command of the 101st Airborne Division during the battle, inspired his troops to a heroic stand that helped stop Germany's last major counteroffensive of the war in Europe.
Today, U.S. and Belgian civilian and military officials laid flowers at a bust of McAuliffe that graces the city square. Mayor Philippe Collard told those gathered that his city has never forgotten its American defenders, who stood with them in the path of an overwhelming German force in the bitter winter of 1944.
During another service today at the Mardasson Memorial, the supreme allied commander Europe encouraged today's servicemembers "to remember and honor" the sacrifices made here six decades ago by what he noted has been called "the greatest generation."
Speaking at a 40-foot-high concrete star that memorializes the Americans killed, injured or reported missing in the battle, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones recognized the qualities he said made that generation so worthy of remembrance and honor. These, he said, are "quiet courage, a commitment to doing the right thing, selflessness of purpose, a profound and deep sense of honor and a forgiveness of former adversaries."
Jones urged those at the ceremony, which included King Albert II of Belgium and U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Tom Korologos, to remember the contributions these veterans have made in the defense of freedom, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice here. Their story, he said, sends a message "as powerful today as it was 60 years ago."
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstad recalled the tremendous hardship the Battle of the Bulge troops endured 60 years ago. "The only thing you could see was fog," he told the veterans at the ceremony. "The only thing you could hear were gunshots and the screams of your wounded colleagues. The only thing you could smell were lead and death. And the only thing you could feel was fear and bitter cold."
Verhofstad praised the veterans for their heroic actions and conviction despite what he acknowledged must have seemed like overwhelming odds. "When the situation looked hopeless, you continued to fight," he said.
The bonds forged during the Battle of the Bulge will never fade, he said, and Belgium will never forget America's role in its liberation, he said. "I'd like to thank every veteranwho made a contribution to victory and freedom," he said.
Everett Andrews, a second lieutenant in the 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion during the Battle of the Bulge, said he was "surprised at the outpouring" he and his fellow veterans received here today. Belgian residents surrounded him in the town square, asking him questions about his service, posing with him for photographs and thanking him for helping their country in its time of need.
"There's a real appreciation and expression of gratitude here," Andrews said.
1st Lt. Luke Margraff, a current member of the 101st Airborne Division, called the show of support in Bastogne "really impressive." Margraff, one of 10 soldiers who traveled here from Fort Campbell, Ky., to participate in the commemoration ceremonies, said he never imagined "that the public would be this involved."
Seeing their appreciation firsthand and the legacy left here by former members of his division "feels great," he said.
Of all areas of the Ardennes region between Belgium and Luxembourg, perhaps none is so closely associated with the Battle of the Bulge as Bastogne.
The city was a key to Hitler's desperate attempt to drive a wedge between the overwhelmed Allied Armies and ultimately capture the port city of Antwerp. To achieve that goal, his plan was to seize the vital crossroads at Bastogne and the Meuse River bridges beyond it.
What Hitler didn't count on was that Bastogne didn't fall. Hours after McAuliffe's refusal to surrender, the skies cleared and Allied forces were able to airdrop reinforcements and launch air attacks on German tanks. The Bastogne garrison soon received much-needed relief from Lt. Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army.
Bastogne hasn't forgotten its place as a turning point in the Battle of the Bulge, nor has it lost gratitude for its American liberators.
Collard called the 60th anniversary celebration "an opportunity for all of us to look back, remember, and once more show our gratitude to our American liberators."
He joined Jones, who urged children participating in the ceremonies "to remember and learn" from the lessons of Bastogne in a way that will transcend the anniversary celebration.
"Safeguarding the memories of the tragic events which took place during the war is of huge importance," Collard said. "But conveying a message of life and hope to our youth is equally so."