On Monday, the 75th anniversary of Battle of the Bulge — one of World War II’s deadliest battles — was commemorated with a ceremony in Belgium, and was attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The ceremony was held at the Mardasson Memorial in Bastogne – the location of the World War II battle – located in the Luxembourg province of Belgium. Esper and a delegation of U.S. officials are visiting the kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in remembrance of the battle.
Esper was reportedly leading a delegation including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. representative to NATO.
Belgian soldiers appeared to escort some of the survivors of the battle to the monument to pay their respects and lay flowers by the memorial.
The original battle began on the morning of Dec. 16, 1944 and lasted more than a month.
Members of 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division had planned to take part in a military parade through a small town in Luxembourg, according to the Heritage Foundation. Upon news of the nearby German offensive, they canceled the parade and prepared for battle.
“I was in charge, since the company commanding officer had been called to report to battalion headquarters,” 1st Lt. James Christy recalled. “We soon got the word to forget the parade and get ready for action with full combat gear.”
More than a million troops took part in the battle, including 500,000 U.S. troops and 55,000 British troops going up against some 600,000 German forces.
By the end of the battle, some 19,000 U.S. troops were killed, 47,500 were wounded and another 23,000 went missing. The British suffered about 1,400 casualties with 200 killed and more missing and wounded. The German army suffered 100,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured.
Both sides lost hundreds of tanks and the German Luftwaffe around 1,000 aircraft.
The battle signified Germany’s last major offensive in the war, according to a U.S. Army history of the battle.
The “Bulge” refers to a large hole in the allied lines, created by the German attack the initiated the battle.
By Dec. 23, the allied forces mounted their counter-attack and pushed the Germans back to where their offensive began. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. led the 3rd U.S. Army north to reinforce the defending American forces in the area.
The 2nd U.S. Armored Division stopped the German tanks short of the Meuse River on Christmas, and by that point seemed the German offensive had failed.
Christy recalled eating a hot turkey dinner and singing “Silent Night” while the Germans across from their positions joined in singing “Stille Nacht.”
Still the battle continued for some time through January, until the “bulge” created by the German offensive had collapsed.
“This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory,” British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill said of the battle, largely crediting his U.S. allies.