Rolls Out Red Carpet for Battle of Bulge Vets
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BASTOGNE, Belgium, Dec. 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 Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image); high-resolution
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
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
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
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
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 veteran…who 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
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
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
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
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
James Jones, USMC
A color guard from the 101st Airborne
Division participates in a ceremony honoring
former members of the division and other
veterans of the Battle of the Bulge at
Bastogne, Belgium, Dec. 18. Photo by Bill
High resolution photo
Everett Andrews, a second lieutenant in the
377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
during the Battle of the Bulge, gets thanked
by Belgian residents for his service 60 years
ago. Photo by Donna Miles
High resolution photo
Bastogne residents don World War II-era U.S.
Army uniforms during ceremonies Dec. 18
commemorating the 60th anniversary of the
Battle of the Bulge. Photo by Donna Miles
High resolution photo
of the Bulge lives on in war-scarred town
Bastogne, in southeast Belgium, has been a
longtime friend to the U.S., ever since locals
teamed up with American forces in the famous WWII
battle almost 60 years ago.
BY PAUL AMES,Associated
BASTOGNE, Belgium - To
find the city hall in Bastogne, walk past the White
House Hotel, cross Gen. McAuliffe square, turn at the
Dakota Cafe and it's the building on the right flying
the stars-and-stripes, just before you reach rue de
For 60 years, this
rural town in southeast Belgium has been tied to the
United States by bonds forged in the fire and fury of
the Battle of the Bulge when the locals and their
American defenders stood in the path of a German
onslaught during the bitter winter of 1944.
''Bastogne has never
stopped its friendship with the American people,''
Mayor Philippe Collard told dignitaries from the U.S.
embassy on a visit to prepare this year's anniversary.
``In Bastogne, you are at home.''
That friendship shows
no sign of waning despite the passing of time and
Belgium's outspoken opposition to the Iraq war.
While some neighboring
towns called a halt to their World War II remembrance
ceremonies after the 50th anniversary in 1994,
Bastogne has a yearlong program of commemoration that
culminates in mid-December with parades, a night vigil
and a major exhibition designed to give new
generations an idea of America's biggest and bloodiest
battle of the war.
King Albert II is due
to join U.S. veterans. An invitation has gone out to
the White House, although Collard says he's yet to
hear if the president will attend.
Bastogne was the key
turning point in the Battle of the Bulge, a surprise
attack by thousands of German troops through the
December snow that was Hitler's desperate last attempt
to reverse the allied advance that began in June on
and under intense bombardment, the commander of the
U.S. 101st Airborne in Bastogne, Gen. Anthony
McAuliffe received a message from his German
counterpart on Dec. 22, 1944, offering him the chance
to surrender. McAuliffe's one-word rebuff -- ''Nuts!''
-- ensured Bastogne's place in military legend and the
town's continued resistance earned the allied forces
time to regroup and repulse Hitler's last offensive.
The cost was high. A
massive concrete star, 40 feet high and 260 feet
across, stands on the Mardasson hill outside the town
as a memorial to the 76,890 Americans killed, injured
or reported missing in the Battle of the Bulge.
Built in the late
1940s, it bears the names of the 50 U.S. states and
the badges of the American units who fought in the
Ardennes. Beneath it is a crypt decorated by the
mosaics by the French artist Fernand Leger in honor of
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish soldiers.
Nearby, a little museum
tells the story of the battle with a display of
uniforms and weapons, one of several dotted around the
Ardennes. A Sherman tank dominates the town square,
which is named after McAuliffe and surrounded by
cafes, including one that serves a locally brewed
strong ale called ''Airborne'' that's served in a mug
shaped like a WWII U.S. army helmet.
There's also a ''Nuts''
liquor distilled from walnuts, which already played a
part in local folklore before McAuliffe's famous
exclamation. In a custom dating back centuries, the
year's newlyweds throw walnuts to children from the
town hall balcony every December, to recall the
matchmaking that traditionally went on among local
farmers during a time-honored nut market.
For this year's
anniversary, the local council has also ordered a
commemorative wine from a French vineyard, and the
Belgian postal service will issue a special series of
Sixty years on, the
Ardennes region is a popular year-round vacation
destination in today's border-free Europe. It
stretches from northern France, through Belgium and
Luxembourg into western Germany in a swathe of
forest-covered plateaux cut by steep valleys that
plunge to trout-rich streams.
Today, snowfalls like
those of the tragic winter of 1944, bring flocks of
cross-country skiers to the region, while in the
summer history buffs are joined by rock-climbers,
hikers and families taking kayak trips down the Semois,
Ourthe and Ambleve rivers which snake through the
woods. Hunters and fishermen take to the forests in
Rebuilt after the war,
Bastogne lacks some of the old-world charm of
neighboring towns and villages, such as Bouillon,
which is dominated by a medieval crusader's castle. La
Roche-en-Ardenne and Houffalize are nestled in narrow
gorges. Durbuy, with its ancient half-timbered houses,
claims to be the world's smallest ``city.''
One thing all the
Ardennes towns have in common is a reputation for good
Bastogne's smoked hams
and sausages are famed. Local beers include powerful
Trappist brews made by monks in the monasteries at
Orval and Rochefort. In season, boar and venison
served in rich, dark sauces hold pride of place in
A new sight on a
hillside overlooking Bastogne is the ''peace wood''
planted in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary of the
battle and honor the U.S. veterans who flew over for
the commemorations. Each of the 4,000 trees was given
the name of a returning veteran, or of a unit that
fought in the battle.
The local beech, birch,
oak, hazel and elder saplings were planted to form the
shape of a mother cradling her child -- the symbol of
UNICEF, the United Nations' children's agency -- with
the aim of creating a place of reflection and serenity
on the site of so much carnage.
Around the edge of the
woods, Bastogne invited other cities marked by war to
plant trees of their own.
There's an oak from the
Basque city of Guernica bombed by Hitler's airforce in
the Spanish Civil War; an apple tree from Avranches
representing the orchards inland from Normandy's D-Day
beaches; a poplar from Oswiecim, the Polish city that
the Germans called Auschwitz; and from Jerusalem, two
Israeli and Palestinian women came together in 2002 to
plant plum trees in memory of loved ones killed in the
Middle East conflict.
At the entrance to the
wood, a sign carries a heart-wrenching quote from an
anonymous German soldier, found chalked on a
blackboard in village school: ``May the world never
experience such a Christmas night. There is nothing
more cruel than to die a soldier's death away from
your wife and children . . . from the ruins and blood
and death universal brotherhood will undoubtedly
A cemetery in the
little village of Recogne holds the remains of almost
7,000 German soldiers. The graves of 13,317 Americans
can be found in the villages of Henri-Chapelle and
Neupre. Over the border, 5,076 more are buried outside
the capital of Luxembourg, including Gen. George S.
Patton who had his headquarters in the city.
Although the passing of
time means fewer and fewer veterans return to
Bastogne, new generations keep coming to the
battlefields. Some are inspired by the Band of
Brothers TV series that graphically portrayed the
fighting. Others have a more personal link. In
Bastogne's museum visitors' book, there's a simple
message from Erica Flegel of Indiana: ``Thank's