Ardennes rally brings back memories of a pivotal moment in WWII
By DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 23, 2016
MALEMPRE, Belgium — More than a thousand servicemembers, veterans and hobbyists joined together Saturday in a march and vehicle rally in the Ardennes Forest to mark the 71st anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Nazi Germany’s last-gasp offensive on the Western Front in World War II.
For some, the 10.5-mile march, which traversed in and around small towns that dot the region in Belgium and Luxembourg, had strong personal meaning.
“My father and my uncle were in the 82nd Airborne, all the way from North Africa through Sicily, Normandy, Holland, and of course this was the last major battle,” said Larry Mallett, a retired Air Force veteran who made the trip from Cincinnati. “They didn’t talk much about it, but this is a way for me to experience it, find out about it, and walk in their shoes. It’s amazing how it’s helped.”
The march — the 34th since it was initiated by Emile Lacroix, head of an 82nd Airborne Division historical society near Namur, Belgium — commemorated the movement of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of that division during the crucial battle.
Lacroix was a young boy during the battle and fondly recalls the day when his town was liberated from German occupation. His interest deepened after the war when he read books such as “The Longest Day” and met American veterans.
Saturday’s march started and ended in Malempre. Before participants marched off, a wreath was laid at the town’s cemetery.
“When more of the veterans were still alive, being here was really special,” said Glen Mallen, an Englishman who, with other members of the re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe, marched in a full GI kit from the era. “Now that there’s so few of them left, it’s still nice to turn out and remember what they went through.”
Only one veteran of the battle participated in the march. He followed part of the route in the back of Lacroix’s World War II-vintage jeep. At a social hall after the march, he was treated like a star, with people lining up for his autograph.
Anthony Grant, now 96, served in Gen. George S. Patton’s famed Third Army as a logistician. He had heard about the march from his great-nephew, Spc. Leonard Thomas, a medic with the 212th Combat Support Hospital based in Meisau, Germany, and decided to join in.
“The experience was beyond anything I expected; it was outstanding,” Grant said. “I’m pleased and proud to have been able to participate in such an occasion.”
Coinciding with the memorial march was a massive vintage-vehicle rally, held by the Belgian Military Vehicle Trust, which counts some 500 members and more than 1,000 World War II-era vehicles, ranging from bicycles to tanks.
The group’s vehicles made a loop around the region, starting in Houffalize, Belgium, including a lunch break in La Roche-en-Ardenne, and back to Houffalize.
“These are two cities that got a lot of damage during the war, and that’s the reason we are going this route,” said Andre Witmeur, chairman of the vehicle trust. “It’s out of respect and memory.”