Battle of the Bulge Memorial
We recently received an email from an American military family stationed in Germany. The writer was Chelsea Morris, wife of a TWS member. She wrote about her family’s visit to a memorial in Belgium honoring the thousands of soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge.
Before getting to the content of her email, we’d like to give our readers a little background of the battle that cost more American lives than any other in all of World War II.
In late 1944, in the wake of the allied forces’ successful D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, it seemed as if the Second World War was all but over. Rumors spread that soldiers would be home by Christmas. So certain this would be the case, troops were not issued sufficient winter gear. But the offensive that had liberated most of France and Belgium slowed down upon reaching the German border. Americans dug into a pocket of eastern Belgium and Luxembourg with much of it in the densely forested Ardennes region.
On a misty winter morning on December 16, 1944, American and other Allied forces were caught off-guard when German troops and nearly 1,000 tanks launched a counteroffensive that was intended to cut through the Allied forces in a manner that would turn the tide of the war in Hitler’s favor.
Seeking to split the Allied armies, the Germans struck along a seventy-five-mile stretch of the front characterized by dense woods and few roads, held by four inexperienced and battle-worn American divisions stationed there for rest and resupply.
After a day of hard fighting, the Germans broke through the American front, surrounding most of an infantry division, seizing key crossroads, and advancing their spearheads toward the Meuse River, the appearance of a large protrusion or bulge, the name by which the battle would forever be known.
Stories spread of the massacre of soldiers and civilians at Malmedy and Stavelot, of paratroopers dropping behind the lines, and of English-speaking German soldiers, disguised as Americans, capturing critical bridges, cutting communications lines, and spreading rumors. Those caught were executed as spies by a firing squad.
A crucial German shortage of fuel and the gallantry of American troops fighting and dying in the frozen forests of the Ardennes proved fatal to Hitler’s ambition to snatch, if not victory, at least a draw with the Allies in the west. Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s remarkable feat of turning the Third Army ninety degrees from Lorraine to relieve the besieged town of Bastogne, held by the 101st Airborne Division, was the key to stopping the German counteroffensive.
The Battle of the Bulge was the costliest action ever fought by the U.S. Army, which suffered over 100,000 casualties. The battle also severely depleted Germany’s war-making resources in both men and equipment, signaling their cause was lost.
Within a few years after the war ended, World War II monuments and memorials were erected everywhere in eastern Belgium, recalling flash points in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German assault on the Western Front in World War II. Bastogne gets the most visitor attention, because of the drama of the rescue.
A popular tourist destination is the Mardasson Memorial located near Bastogne. This monument, in the form of a five-pointed American star, was designed to honor the memory of the 76,890 American soldiers killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of the Bulge. Among recent visitors there was an American military family stationed in Germany.
Chelsea Morris’ Email
My husband and I are currently assigned to a base in Germany and we recently had an experience that I thought was worth sharing.
Living overseas has been a difficult experience for my husband and me, being so close with our families. We had never been separated by more than a hundred miles, let alone an entire ocean. So when my family came to visit, we were ecstatic. We planned small outings and day trips, never realizing how we would be effected by one trip in particular.
It is a small little town just inside the southern border of Belgium that, despite being outnumbered, held out as a stronghold for allied forces against the expansion of Nazi, Germany.
Before leaving, we watched documentaries on the battle, which were laden with old pictures of soldiers, frozen and starving, entrenched in feet of snow with their wounded and deceased comrades scattered about them. Hopeless, Belgian forces still held out for months during a brutal winter against a horrific enemy until American reinforcements arrived. Though still severely disadvantaged, American and Belgian troops fought side by side, winning the battle, and forever fortifying their friendship.
When we arrived at the memorial, the sun was beginning to set. The all-white, massive stone structure sat on a hill. A series of pillars jutted out at five points on the structure to create a star, which came together to form a circular garden in the middle. The five points of the stars listed every American state represented by the troops that fought alongside the Belgians.
The interior garden was surrounded by text describing the battle and praising the Americans for their bravery and friendship. The sun beamed through the pillars as it set, birds chirping all around. It was surreal, on such a beautiful day, to imagine what had come before us.
Climbing to the top of the memorial, I saw my husband sitting on a bench, talking to an old man. I came down and asked my husband what he was taking to the old man about.
My husband said, “I asked the man if he comes here often. Though his English was poor, I was able to understand a little. He responded that he comes here every day. He said, each afternoon, he walks the three miles from his house to the memorial, rain or shine, and he sits on that bench. I asked him if his family fought in the war, and he said yes. Then, I then asked him why he came every day. What the old an said moved me. He took a slow, deep breath, and quietly said, ‘Because I must.'”
I turned to look at the man, still sitting on the bench as the sun went down. He was not reading a book. He was not talking on a cellphone. He sat with nothing but a cane, staring at the memorial as if it were the first time he had ever laid eyes upon it. In America, so many are lucky if they have a long enough attention span to remember the last war. And here is a man who, seventy years later, still felt such an overwhelming sense of thankfulness that he dedicated his life to a grateful remembrance, knowing how different his life would have been, had it not been for the friendship that was forged between our country and his.