Speech
Secretary of Defense Speech

Battle of the Bulge 75th Anniversary – Luxembourg

Dec. 16, 2019
Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper

Good afternoon. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is my honor to participate in today’s ceremony to pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of the “Battle of the Bulge.” I would like to extend a very special welcome to our World War II veterans who are here with us. Your stories are remarkable and we will forever be grateful for the incredible sacrifices you made in defense of our freedom so many years ago.

Today, we are gathered at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg to honor the 5,076 Americans buried here who laid down their lives in the gallant stand against tyranny that would ultimately liberate Europe from Nazi control. This ceremony, on these beautiful and peaceful grounds, commemorates their sacrifices, along with the more than 500,000 others who faced great peril as they fought to push back Hitler’s last major offensive on the Western Front of World War II.

On December 16th, 1944 the nation of Luxembourg became the front lines in the years long struggle of freedom versus tyranny. Facing frigid temperatures, low on supplies, and without the advantage of air support, the Allies initially gave way to the surprise Nazi offensive. But despite the early set-backs and the bulge that developed in the battle lines, the Americans counterattacked with the fortitude and determination that has defined our Soldiers since the founding of our great nation.

Decisive in this effort to repel the offensive was the courage and determination of the United States’ Third Army. From their initial position in France over 100 miles away from the fighting, they rushed northward to the Ardennes to reinforce their beleaguered comrades who were bravely holding the line. Their commander, the legendary Lieutenant General George S. Patton, sensed the magnitude of the situation and wrote in a letter to his wife, “This is my biggest battle.” He was right. The United States lost over 19,000 men in that fight, more than in any other battle of World War II. By the time the Battle of the Bulge was over in January of 1945, the Allies had retaken all of the territory lost to the Nazis and were headed towards Berlin.

But, the real story of the Battle of the Bulge is the story of the soldiers who banded together under the most trying circumstances to preserve the Allied victory that was years in the making. The American Soldier was resourceful, skilled, and innovative. He had grown up during the Great Depression; he knew hardship. And he refused to quit.

When chaos ensued, and units were broken apart and driven from position, these Soldiers rejoined together and rebuilt their defenses. They were tough, and tenacious, and showed an indomitable spirit despite the adversity they faced. As many around them lay dead and wounded, or freezing from the bitter cold, they continued to fight, refusing to let the bulge break. For a moment in history, the fate of the free world rested on their shoulders.

Today, 75 years later, we remember these men. They sailed across an ocean to fight a war far from home, to defend others they knew little of. They left behind loved ones, unsure if they would ever see them again, but sure in their cause. And they faced an enemy, who was determined to change our way of life by stealing our liberty. But together, they fought with honor, with undaunted courage, with great skill, and with an unmatched determination that all but assured victory.

We must never forget the brave warriors who won that historic battle. Many of these men perished amid the thundering forests of the Ardennes. And since the battlefield fell silent long ago, most of the veterans of that era have passed. However, we are blessed to have with us today a group of heroes who still walk among us. Legends of our time.

These men represent America’s Greatest Generation. These men are the Soldiers who stood their ground amidst the cracks of rifle fire, the whistling of incoming artillery, and the rumbling of oncoming tanks. These men are the heroes who refused to let tyranny and oppression triumph over freedom and liberty.

Buried in this most solemn ground are many of their comrades; those who never returned home. And overlooking the cemetery, between the two flag poles, stands a lone cross marking the grave of the man who commanded many of them, General Patton. Shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, Patton wrote in his journal, reflecting on the significance of the victory and the incredible bravery demonstrated by the American Soldiers who took part in it. As he considered all that had been sacrificed to achieve victory, he expressed his sincere desire for the troops who endured the extreme rigors of the battle to be given the foremost credit for its victory.

That is of course precisely why we are here. To ensure we never forget their service to the Nation. To properly recognize their commitment to our freedom. And to honor the sacrifices they made so that we may live in peace.

Together, this is the legacy that we celebrate today.

May God bless our service members and our veterans. And may God Bless the United States of America!

Thank you.