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Luxembourg, US leaders commemorate Battle of the Bulge

LUXEMBOURG (AFNS) -- Nearly 200 Luxembourgers and Americans observed the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge during a commemorative ceremony Dec. 16, at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg.

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg; Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg; Robert Mandell, the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg; Gen. Frank Gorenc, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa; and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army Europe, participated in the memorial service to honor those who fought and died in the battle from Dec. 16, 1944 through Jan. 25, 1945.

"The importance of the Allied victory cannot be understated," Gorenc said. "The defeat of the enemy in their biggest offensive in the West in World War II was a superb accomplishment."

Allied forces liberated Luxembourg from Axis occupation in September 1944. However, the heavily-wooded Ardennes region of the countryside served as a new battleground when enemy armies launched a surprise attack before dawn Dec. 16, 1944.

The initial advance produced confusion but met strong resistance from reinforced Allied armies in key cities in Belgium like St. Vith and Bastogne. The battle eventually resulted in a German defeat, emboldening Allied movements to the country's eastern and western fronts.

"Air power certainly helped halt the last German advance of World War II," Gorenc said. "Airmen and Soldiers are forever linked here in the Ardennes and battlefields all over the world. The U.S. Air Force evolved from the Army Air Corps, and our service will continue to find innovative ways to protect them and provide them the supplies they need on the battlefield just like the Soldiers needed during the Bulge. As the commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, I am proud of the Army Air Corps Airmen who provided air support during the Battle of the Bulge. I am proud of the men and women who served during World War II and throughout our history in support of freedom. And I am proud of our Airmen."

The battle resulted in more than 19,000 American deaths with many buried in the Luxembourg cemetery, which was established in the middle of the conflict Dec. 29, 1944.

"The 5,076 Americans, including 22 sets of brothers, who died in the service of their country are buried here today," Hodges said. "This ceremony and this beautiful and peaceful cemetery are about commemorating their service and the service of many thousands of men and women who fought in this great battle. But it's also about something much bigger -- it's about the concept of service to each other as Soldiers, as people, as nations. These Soldiers and Airmen buried here and in cemeteries all over Europe lived and fought for each other. They risked their lives for each other. They would have rather died in combat than to have failed their comrades or leave a comrade behind."

More than 20 World War II veterans attended the ceremony, many making the trip as part of anniversary tours throughout Belgium and Luxembourg at sites relating to the battle.

"For this achievement, each and every one of you have formed the everlasting gratitude of the Luxembourg people," Bettel said, on behalf of his fellow countrymen to the veterans. "Thank you so much for what you did for us and for what you are doing today."