Battle of the Bulge Dead Are Still Heroes in the Ardennes

By Lothar, Corinna | The World and I, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Battle of the Bulge Dead Are Still Heroes in the Ardennes


Lothar, Corinna, The World and I


Corinna Lothar is a writer for The Washington Times.

The sweet high-tenor voice filled the little chapel at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery with The Star-Spangled Banner, but the words were in an unfamiliar tongue. Roland, an elderly Belgian gentleman, told me proudly: "I sang this for General Eisenhower when he came here in 1945, but I was only a little boy then. When the Americans arrived, it was paradise."

A Vietnam War veteran with long white hair and in a black leather jacket, standing nearby, did not try to hide his tears as he strained to hear the French words--"O, Regardez dans la clarte du matin ("O, say can you see by the dawn's early light").

Henri-Chapelle Cemetery lies on the road from Liege, Belgium, to Aachen, Germany. It is not far from Bastogne, a small town whose name is seared, like Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, in the soul and sinew of America. The cemetery is the last resting place of 7,992 American soldiers. Most of them died trying to repulse the German offensive known by us as the Battle of the Bulge, for the great bulge in the American lines. Europeans call it the Battle of the Ardennes, for the great forest surrounding the town.

There are fourteen such World War II sites maintained abroad by the American Battle Monuments Commission, created by an act of Congress in 1923. Use of the permanent cemetery sites on foreign soil was granted in perpetuity by the host governments to the United States, free of cost, rent, and taxation. In the Ardennes area, there are three cemeteries of American dead. The American flag flies above all of them; the dead can sleep in American soil.

We had come, a group of travel writers from the United States, along with dozens of World War II veterans and their families, to honor those who had fallen in the cold, bloodstained, forested hills of the Ardennes in Belgium and in Luxembourg. At Henri-Chapelle, there are rows and rows of white Christian crosses and Stars of David, arranged in broad sweeping curves on a gently sloping lawn.

The veterans fanned out among the graves to look for the names of comrades fallen sixty years ago in one of the fiercest and costliest battles of the war.

Belgian veterans were there, too. One of them told me, with great pride, that when the Germans arrived, all of the one hundred young men of his village were ordered to join the German army. To a man, they refused. To a man, they were sent to work camps to labor as slaves. Some survived; many did not.

As the busloads of veterans arrived, they were greeted by dozens of schoolchildren, waving small American flags and chanting, "Wel-come, wel-come, wel-come." Belgian schoolchildren of the Ardennes are taught to care for the graves of the fallen Americans, and to honor the Allied dead who gave their lives to free Europe from the Nazi yoke. The local community is involved in keeping the memory of the battle alive.

A woman read a moving poem entitled Freedom Is Not Free, which she had composed for the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the battle. Anthems were sung, short speeches made. Sixty years is a long time, but these men, Americans and Belgians alike, have not forgotten the liberation of Belgium and Luxembourg. Many are veterans of "the longest day" on the beaches of Normandy who fought their way from June 6, 1944, through the summer, autumn and winter into 1945. The insignia on their jackets tells the tale.

The Battle of the Bulge began December 16, 1944, when a formidable assembly of German tanks, guns and men, including the dreaded SS Panzer division under the command of Gen. Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, crashed through the forest against the thinly held American lines. Adolf Hitler's theory was that the Allied invasion could be halted and that British and American forces could be divided, enabling his army to cross the River Meuse, capture Brussels and the port of Antwerp before the Americans could react. …

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