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Col. Dean A. Nowowiejski, USAG Benelux commander, left, and Maurice Sperandieu, World War II veteran and founder of the annual march in Bastogne, salute during the ceremony at the 506th Parachute Intrantry Regiment monument.
Col. Dean A. Nowowiejski, USAG Benelux commander, left, and Maurice Sperandieu, World War II veteran and founder of the annual march in Bastogne, salute during the ceremony at the 506th Parachute Intrantry Regiment monument. (Cis Spook / U.S. Army)
Col. Dean A. Nowowiejski, USAG Benelux commander, left, and Maurice Sperandieu, World War II veteran and founder of the annual march in Bastogne, salute during the ceremony at the 506th Parachute Intrantry Regiment monument.
Col. Dean A. Nowowiejski, USAG Benelux commander, left, and Maurice Sperandieu, World War II veteran and founder of the annual march in Bastogne, salute during the ceremony at the 506th Parachute Intrantry Regiment monument. (Cis Spook / U.S. Army)
Patrick Gelbach, a Cub Scout from Stuttgart, Germany, carried the American flag during the Battle of the Bulge walk.
Patrick Gelbach, a Cub Scout from Stuttgart, Germany, carried the American flag during the Battle of the Bulge walk. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)
Saturday's Battle of the Bulge walk in Bastogne featured plenty of re-enactors of the famous World War II battle.
Saturday's Battle of the Bulge walk in Bastogne featured plenty of re-enactors of the famous World War II battle. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)
Army Capt. Keith Koistinen, a veterinarian from Stuttgart, Germany, and his wife, Kaarina, pushed strollers through some muddy conditions Saturday during the Battle of the Bulge walk. With them are their children, from left, Lyle, 2, Carson, 3, and Neal, 6 months.
Army Capt. Keith Koistinen, a veterinarian from Stuttgart, Germany, and his wife, Kaarina, pushed strollers through some muddy conditions Saturday during the Battle of the Bulge walk. With them are their children, from left, Lyle, 2, Carson, 3, and Neal, 6 months. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)
U.S. Army Europe Command Sergeant Major Iuniasolua T. Savusa, center, walks with fellow U.S. Army troops during Saturday's Battle of the Bulge march.
U.S. Army Europe Command Sergeant Major Iuniasolua T. Savusa, center, walks with fellow U.S. Army troops during Saturday's Battle of the Bulge march. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

BASTOGNE, Belgium — A week ago, Maj. John Lorenzen was in Baghdad.

But on Saturday, the Army officer joined about 2,300 people in the annual perimeter walk marking the 62nd anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Belgium.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for three, four months,” Lorenzen said. “When you’re sitting in Iraq, this place seems a long way away.”

While Lorenzen’s journey from Baghdad to Bastogne probably represents the greatest distance covered by any walker this past week — certainly by any U.S. servicemember — other Americans traveled near and far to get here, too.

Despite the wind, and the cold, and the muck, one-third of the people who participated in the walk were Americans. Many of them are stationed in the Benelux or at nearby military bases in Germany, such as Geilenkirchen or Spangdahlem Air Base. But there were also considerable numbers from places such as Giessen, Stuttgart and Heidelberg.

“I wanted to walk and see the grounds,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua T. Savusa, the U.S. Army Europe command sergeant major. “I’m just honored to be a part of it.”

Many soldiers and airmen who took part used words and phrases such as “honored” and “hallowed ground” to describe Bastogne and the Ardennes Forest. And those sentiments were accentuated by the hundreds of World War II re-enactors who are drawn to this Belgian city every December.

“It was great to take a step back in time and honor those men,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class David Cardona, who came up from Kaiserslautern, Germany, with his family.

Cardona’s father-in-law served in Bastogne with the 101st Airborne Division, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He fought north of town.

Other servicemembers have similar ties. One of them was Spc. Rebecca Jones of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux in Chievres.

“To me, it means a lot,” Jones said while taking a break on a muddy farm road south of the village of Foy. “My grandpa (Pvt. Eugene Heugel) was here. By here, I mean right here.”

“I wish my brother could be here,” she added, “but he is deploying soon.”

Some said they believe the walk and the other activities of the day have taken on greater significance now that the nation is at war.

“It’s really hallowed ground, isn’t it?” said Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ron Leininger of Chievres. “And the boys of today are not unlike the boys of Bastogne, just doing their duty.”

Remarkably, the commemorative events draw many more non-Americans than Americans. Around the Bastogne sports hall, where the walk is organized, the participants ranged from young Polish soldiers to British retirees. And just about everywhere on the streets of Bastogne one could see U.S. flags flapping in the wind while hearing French being spoken.

The memorial walk covers a different section of the Allied perimeter around Bastogne each year. North of town this time, the walk ended in the early afternoon at the monument to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Cub Scout Pack 1 from Heidelberg was given the honor of laying a wreath at the foot of the monument. Several other packs and troops from Germany were on hand as well.

“It’s really cool,” said 11-year-old Patrick Gelbach, a Cub Scout from Stuttgart. “Most people don’t get a chance to do this. I liked it a lot.”

62nd anniversary of epic battle recalls sacrifices made

BASTOGNE, Belgium — The German army originally called the operation “Watch on the Rhine,” and later changed it to “Autumn Fog.”

Today, of course, folks know it best as the “Battle of the Bulge.”

“Whether we live or die,” Adolf Hitler urged his commanders on the eve of the battle, “the enemy must be beaten now or never.”

Saturday marked the 62nd anniversary of the beginning of that epic battle, and by the looks of things around Bastogne — a Belgian city unwittingly thrust to the forefront — Hitler’s enemies settled for “never.”

“We’re a better nation, a better military, a better Army because of their sacrifice,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua T. Savusa, the U.S. Army Europe command sergeant major.

Savusa was referring to the U.S. veterans who fought here. Now well into their 80s, there were few, if any, World War II “Joes” in attendance. Still, that didn’t lessen the spirit of Saturday’s festivities in and around Bastogne.

The commemoration typically falls on a Saturday in mid-December, the better, organizers say, for the people who want to attend. This year, however, the events fell on the exact day of the start of the campaign, one that Hitler hoped would turn the tide of the war.

More than 1 million combatants participated in the battle, which was waged over a front several hundred miles from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945. Nearly 77,000 Americans were killed, missing, wounded or taken prisoner. The Germans lost considerably more people and equipment.

Bastogne became forever famous for the American’s valiant defense of the city, a place at a strategic crossroad that was encircled by German forces but not conquered. The Battle of the Bulge and all its myriad of stories large and small became an enduring symbol of courage and resolve.

“The locals here are very appreciative. They are always kind and thankful,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Heath Hielsberg, who visited Bastogne on Saturday with his father, Rodger.

Saturday’s commemorative events drew huge crowds, given that it was an “off year.” Hielsberg attributes the rising interest to the “Band of Brothers” television series, saying it “open doors” for people who may not of otherwise known or cared about what transpired here 62 years ago.

“It’s pretty cool,” Hielsberg said. “This is kind of like sacred ground.”

— Kevin Dougherty

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