More than 19,000 U.S. service members lost their lives fighting the Nazis during the 40-day-long Battle of the Bulge, which commenced 75 years ago today in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. The battle was pivotal in the ultimate Allied defeat of the Nazis just a little over four months later.
"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 toward Berlin," Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said during a commemorative event at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg today. "But the real story of the Battle of the Bulge is the story of the soldiers who banded together, who fought together, and who worked under the most trying circumstances to preserve the Allied victory that was years in the making."
The American soldiers who fought at the battle were resourceful, skilled and innovative; having been hardened by growing up during the Great Depression, Esper said.
"[They] knew hardship. When chaos ensued, units were broken apart. Men were driven from their positions," Esper said. "These soldiers rejoined together and rebuilt their defenses. They were tough and tenacious and showed an indomitable spirit despite the adversity they faced."
Toward the end of the Battle of the Bulge, more than 600,000 soldiers were engaged in the fight. Nearly 90,000 Americans ended up as casualties from the battle, with some 19,000 killed.
"They faced an enemy who was determined to change our way of life by stealing our liberty and stealing our freedom," the secretary said. "But together they fought with honor and distinction, with undaunted courage, with great skill, and with an unmatched determination that all but assured victory."
Esper said those who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, more than 5,000 of whom are buried at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg, must never be forgotten.
"For a moment in history, the fate of the free world rested on their shoulders — rested on your shoulders," he said, with a nod toward living veterans of the battle in attendance at the event. "Today, 75 years later, we remember these great men."