2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the 'Battle of the Bulge', which will be remembered during a ceremony on 16 December at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm. When, on 16 December 1944, German units attacked American lines in the Ardennes area, covering the North of Luxembourg and the East of Belgium, it was the prelude to what came to be known as one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. Fought in the unforgiving conditions of one of the harshest winters in memory, thousands of American and German soldiers were killed in heavy fighting. In January 1945, much of Luxembourg's Eislek region was lying in ruins, many of its inhabitants were dead, refugees or were freezing among the remains of their lives.
A ceremony to remember those who fought valiantly
16 December 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the 'Battle of the Bulge'. For the occasion, a ceremony takes place at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, where over 5.073 US service members who were killed in Luxembourg were laid to rest.
Among them rests famous US general George S. Patton. He died after a car crash in Germany and was buried on 24 December 1945 in Hamm, in accordance with his request to be buried with his men.
Other notable tombs include that of Medal of Honor recipients Sergeant Day G. Turner and Private William D. McGee, as well as 5 members of the famed E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division portrayed in the book and series 'Band of Brothers'.
A battle that is vividly remembered to this day
The winter of 1944-1945 is remembered by many people in Luxembourg as one of the coldest and harshest on memory. The only advantage the weather conditions brought with them was a lull in combat, as opposing German and US forces equally seemed to be struggling with the conditions. When German troops began to advance through the valleys and over the snow-covered crests on 16 December 1944, beginning what became known as the 'Battle of the Bulge', the surprise was total. Towns which, so far, had been spared by the war, suddenly found themselves heavily fought over.
Wiltz, Clervaux, Diekirch, Ettelbruck, Beaufort and Echternach, quiet towns and villages that are today attracting tourists, became instrumental in delaying the German advance, resulting in heavy house-to-house fighting. Outlying farms and small hamlets were sometimes obliterated in the artillery barrages, where attackers tried to dislodge defenders. During the heavy fighting, many residents became refugees, while those who remained were often trapped in basements without knowing whether they would survive the night.
Towards the end of January 1945 the Americans, led by general George S. Patton, regained control over the region. On 12 February 1945, the last Luxembourgish town, Vianden, was eventually liberated, effectively ending German rule in Luxembourg.
However, the battle remains an important part of Luxembourg's collective memory to this day. Many memorials and museums dot the landscape, from the National Museum of Military History in Diekirch and the Battle of the Bulge Museum in Wiltz, to local memorials to downed allied aircraft or important battles, e.g. at the National Liberation Museum at 'Schumanns-Eck'.
Sweet for children in Wiltz from 'American Saint Nick'
In December 1944, Richard W. Brookins was garrisoned in Wiltz with the US 28th Infantry Division. As Saint Nicholas Day neared, him and his fellow soldiers saw that nearly 5 years of war had left Luxembourgers with very little to give their children as a way of present, so they decided to stage Saint Nicholas themselves. They pooled together sweets from care packages and army cooks lent a hand as well, so that on 5 December, 'American Saint Nick' was parading through Wiltz in a Jeep, to the glee of the children. This gave birth to a tradition that has been observed in Wiltz ever since.