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Battle of the Bulge site gives soldiers glimpse into a pivotal WWII fight

Capt. Tim Behnke, a chaplain from the Grafenwoehr Training Area, and his son Adam carry a wreath to be laid at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.

MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 18, 2017

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — U.S. soldiers and their families followed in the footsteps of the famous Company E when they visited World War II battlefields to mark the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge this weekend.

Base chaplains, together with the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, organized the trip. It brought 48 soldiers and families on an eight-hour trip across Germany to pay respects at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, and to see the battlefields in Bastogne, Belgium.

“It’s one thing to read history; it is quite another to see it, feel it and experience it firsthand,” said Col. Kevin Pies, garrison chaplain at the Army’s Grafenwoehr Training Area. “(When you) go right to the site, (it) ties everything together so that you can get the bigger picture. It sort of brings out the realness of the event and separates it from fiction.”

The battle, which began Dec. 16, 1944, and lasted about a month and a half, was Germany’s last major offensive on the Western Front in World War II. German planners intended for their forces to reach the Belgian port of Antwerp, thus cutting off Allied armies in the Netherlands and forcing them to surrender. The surprise German attack created a large bulge in American lines and led to the name of the Battle of the Bulge.

During the bitter fighting in the densely forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and Luxembourg, American soldiers were sometimes outnumbered 6-to-1.

A week into the fighting, a group of German soldiers approached the battle lines and asked that the U.S. troops surrender. Bastogne was a key crossroads, and the Germans needed to overrun the town in order to continue their advance to the sea. The Americans famously replied, “NUTS!” to the German request and kept fighting.

During their visit, the soldiers and families climbed into American foxholes and saw sites that were re-created in the HBO series “Band of Brothers,” such as the place where “Easy Company” Staff Sgt. Bill Guarnere lost his leg from artillery fire.

Getting a firsthand look at where history was made gave the soldiers a powerful sense of the legacy they’ve inherited.

“It impresses on me the resiliency and strength found even in the midst of terrible times,” Pies said. “And if someone can survive a battle like this, then I think I can face anything tough that life throws at me.”

egnash.martin@stripes.com

@Marty_Stripes

Soldiers and families from the Grafenwoehr Training Area gather at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial to pay respects, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.
MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

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