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Members of the U.K.-based historical re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe gather Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Malempre, Belgium, prior to a 10.5-mile march around the Ardennes region. More than 1,000 marchers braved the persistent rain and mud during the event, held to commemorate the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment's role in the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge.
Members of the U.K.-based historical re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe gather Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Malempre, Belgium, prior to a 10.5-mile march around the Ardennes region. More than 1,000 marchers braved the persistent rain and mud during the event, held to commemorate the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment's role in the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Members of the U.K.-based historical re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe gather Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Malempre, Belgium, prior to a 10.5-mile march around the Ardennes region. More than 1,000 marchers braved the persistent rain and mud during the event, held to commemorate the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment's role in the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge.
Members of the U.K.-based historical re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe gather Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Malempre, Belgium, prior to a 10.5-mile march around the Ardennes region. More than 1,000 marchers braved the persistent rain and mud during the event, held to commemorate the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment's role in the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Members of the U.K.-based historical re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe gather Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Malempre, Belgium, prior to a 10.5-mile march around the Ardennes region.
Members of the U.K.-based historical re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe gather Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Malempre, Belgium, prior to a 10.5-mile march around the Ardennes region. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
More than 1,000 marchers, including a re-enactment group, gathered Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, to to commemorate the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment's role in the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge.
More than 1,000 marchers, including a re-enactment group, gathered Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, to to commemorate the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment's role in the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
A young boy dressed in World War II-era uniform stands during a wreath-laying ceremony in Malempre, Belgium, Saturday Feb. 20, 2016. As part of the day's event, more than 1,000 people took part in 10.5-mile march in the Ardennes region.
A young boy dressed in World War II-era uniform stands during a wreath-laying ceremony in Malempre, Belgium, Saturday Feb. 20, 2016. As part of the day's event, more than 1,000 people took part in 10.5-mile march in the Ardennes region. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
U.S. students from Miami University, who are studying in neighboring Luxembourg, prepare to lay a floral wreath at the Malempre, Belgium, cemetery to mark the beginning of the 34th annual 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society road march. More than 1,000 U.S. and European participants made the 10.5-mile trek in persistent rain through the Belgian countryside.
U.S. students from Miami University, who are studying in neighboring Luxembourg, prepare to lay a floral wreath at the Malempre, Belgium, cemetery to mark the beginning of the 34th annual 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society road march. More than 1,000 U.S. and European participants made the 10.5-mile trek in persistent rain through the Belgian countryside. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Glen Mallin, head of the U.K.-based re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe, salutes during a wreath-laying ceremony Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Malempre, Belgium.
Glen Mallin, head of the U.K.-based re-enactment group 2nd Armored in Europe, salutes during a wreath-laying ceremony Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Malempre, Belgium. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Emile Lacroix, president of the Belgian 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society, addresses marchers in Malempre, Belgium, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, prior to the society's 34th annual road march in commemoration of the division's soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Lacroix was a young boy when U.S. soldiers liberated his village and has worked closely with veterans for decades.
Emile Lacroix, president of the Belgian 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society, addresses marchers in Malempre, Belgium, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, prior to the society's 34th annual road march in commemoration of the division's soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Lacroix was a young boy when U.S. soldiers liberated his village and has worked closely with veterans for decades. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Participants in the 34th annual road march held by the Belgian 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society walk through the Ardennes countryside near Malempre, Belgium Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.
Participants in the 34th annual road march held by the Belgian 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society walk through the Ardennes countryside near Malempre, Belgium Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Members of the Belgian Military Vehicle Trust take a break for lunch during their winter rally in La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. The BMVT's 500 members boast more than 1,000 World War II-era military vehicles, from motorcycles to tanks.
Members of the Belgian Military Vehicle Trust take a break for lunch during their winter rally in La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. The BMVT's 500 members boast more than 1,000 World War II-era military vehicles, from motorcycles to tanks. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Nearly 200 World War II-era military vehicles hit the road Saturday, Feb., 20, 2016, in the Belgian Miltary Vehicle Trust's winter rally in La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium. Hobbyists and collectors from all over Europe gathered for the rally, held in the Ardennes region where the crucial Battle of the Bulge was fough in 1944-45.
Nearly 200 World War II-era military vehicles hit the road Saturday, Feb., 20, 2016, in the Belgian Miltary Vehicle Trust's winter rally in La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium. Hobbyists and collectors from all over Europe gathered for the rally, held in the Ardennes region where the crucial Battle of the Bulge was fough in 1944-45. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
A member of the Belgian Military Vehicle Trust plays the accordion in the back of a World War II-era military vehicle in La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium, Feb. 20, 2016.
A member of the Belgian Military Vehicle Trust plays the accordion in the back of a World War II-era military vehicle in La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium, Feb. 20, 2016. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)
Anthony Grant, left, a 96-year-old veteran of World War II, enjoys a coffee with participants in the 34th annual 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society's road march to commemorate the division's efforts in the Battle of the Bulge, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Malempre, Belgium. Grant served as a logistics soldier with Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army during the war.
Anthony Grant, left, a 96-year-old veteran of World War II, enjoys a coffee with participants in the 34th annual 82nd Airborne All-American Historical Society's road march to commemorate the division's efforts in the Battle of the Bulge, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Malempre, Belgium. Grant served as a logistics soldier with Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army during the war. (Dan Stoutamire/Stars and Stripes)

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.”

stoutamire.dan@stripes.com Twitter: @DKS_Stripes

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