CLERVAUX, Luxembourg, December 15, 2004 - Luxembourg officials opened a weeklong lineup of ceremonies and observances throughout the Ardennes region here today by thanking about 100 veterans of the Battle of the Bulge for liberating them from their German occupiers 60 years ago.
Camille Kohn, president of CEBA, French acronym for a Battle of the Bulge research organization, told the veterans the nation feels "immense gratitude" for the American soldiers who liberated it after five years of oppression.
Kohn joined Clervaux Mayor Francis Stephany in laying flowers at the foot of the GI Monument during a solemn ceremony in the town center. The statue of a war-weary foot soldier was erected in the early 1980s to share the story of Clervaux's liberation with future generations, Kohn said. It represents "the immense gratitude we have borne in our hearts, carved into metal for all eternity," he told the veterans.
In overcoming the Germans, Kohn said the Americans conquered more than an enemy force. "You conquered the hearts of an oppressed people," he said. "And we are deeply indebted to the United States for all that your gracious nation did for us."
Stephany said his townspeople and countrymen have never forgotten the actions the US military took six decades ago to free Luxembourg. He told the veterans most now in their late 70s and 80s that his nation remains grateful and "will never forgot those who paid the full price" of victory.
It's important for the Luxembourgers to share this message with younger generations so they too will understand the cost of freedom and recognize that oppression can't be permitted to stand, Stephany said.It's a lesson as applicable today as 60 years ago, he said, particularly in light of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. "Now it's up to us to help sustain" the war against terrorism "so we can continue to live in freedom," he told the group.
Veterans at the ceremony, many with family members at their sides, said it was gratifying to receive heartfelt thanks for their actions during what many called a turning point in their lives.
"I went in and 18 and came out as an old man at 21," said former Army SPC Carl Dalke [HQ, REGT, 506th PIR, 1944-1945], who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.
Dalke acknowledged that he and his fellow soldiers endured "gut-wrenching experiences" as they faced brutal weather conditions and limited food supplies while facing off against a massive German force. He still tears up as he remembers losing his best friend during the first week of the war, and called his visit to the 60th anniversary commemoration a fitting way to remember him and other 19,000 US troops who died here.
Despite the heartaches associated with the war, Dalke said he "came away with a love" of the local people for helping him and other soldiers. He remembers with fondness the local people sharing food with the hungry troops, and taking their sheets off their beds so the soldiers could use them as camouflage against the snow.
Former Army SGT Pat Murphy was 18 when he served with the 78th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge and admits that he "didn't think I'd live to see 19." Now 78, Murphy said he felt it important to attend the commemoration as the number of World War II veterans dwindles. "Let's face it," he said with tears forming in his eyes, "this is probably our last big anniversary." He said the visit is a way for him to remember the past "and to pay respect for all my buddies who were killed or badly wounded." Murphy considers himself "extremely lucky": 87 percent of his division was killed or wounded during the war.
Gus Swiersz, a staff sergeant with the 28th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge, said the visit to the 60th anniversary commemoration was "much more emotional to me" than previous return visits to the region. This time, he brought along his son and his 11-year-old grandson, Matthew, so they could relive with him his experiences as a squad leader who encountered what he believes were the opening shots of the campaign." We have three generations here," Swiersz said. "We're all experiencing this together."
photo by Ben Miles, American Forces Press Service
photo by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service