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Capt. Jake Lazebnik, left, and Capt. Blake Ritchey of the 101st Airborne Division pose with a young Belgian on the streets of Bastogne, Belgium, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The Screaming Eagles and other service members were in town to mark the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge.
Capt. Jake Lazebnik, left, and Capt. Blake Ritchey of the 101st Airborne Division pose with a young Belgian on the streets of Bastogne, Belgium, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The Screaming Eagles and other service members were in town to mark the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Capt. Jake Lazebnik, left, and Capt. Blake Ritchey of the 101st Airborne Division pose with a young Belgian on the streets of Bastogne, Belgium, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The Screaming Eagles and other service members were in town to mark the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge.
Capt. Jake Lazebnik, left, and Capt. Blake Ritchey of the 101st Airborne Division pose with a young Belgian on the streets of Bastogne, Belgium, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The Screaming Eagles and other service members were in town to mark the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Band members dressed in World War II-era garb entertain with music from the era on the streets of Bastogne, Belgium, as the city and the surrounding areas mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.
Band members dressed in World War II-era garb entertain with music from the era on the streets of Bastogne, Belgium, as the city and the surrounding areas mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Shop windows in Bastogne, Belgium, are decorated with art marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.
Shop windows in Bastogne, Belgium, are decorated with art marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Dressed in World War II-style garb like those worn 30th Infantry Division, Curtis Rhymer, from Kaiserslautern, Germany, talks about the Battle of the Bulge, while visiting Bastogne Barracks in Bastogne, Belgium, during commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
Dressed in World War II-style garb like those worn 30th Infantry Division, Curtis Rhymer, from Kaiserslautern, Germany, talks about the Battle of the Bulge, while visiting Bastogne Barracks in Bastogne, Belgium, during commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
The American delegation along with the mayor of Bastogne, Belgium, for the traditional throwing of the nuts from the city hall balcony, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.
The American delegation along with the mayor of Bastogne, Belgium, for the traditional throwing of the nuts from the city hall balcony, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Spectators, many with American flags, line the main street of Bastogne, Belgium, as the parade marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge begins, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.
Spectators, many with American flags, line the main street of Bastogne, Belgium, as the parade marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge begins, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
An American color guard followed by service members of the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux march through Bastogne, Belgium, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The eastern Belgian town was marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
An American color guard followed by service members of the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux march through Bastogne, Belgium, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The eastern Belgian town was marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
The American delegation that included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, second from right, and 101st Airborne Division commander Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, second from left, lay a wreath at the monument to Gen. Anthony McAuliffe at the square named after him in Bastogne, Belgium. The ceremony was part of the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
The American delegation that included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, second from right, and 101st Airborne Division commander Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, second from left, lay a wreath at the monument to Gen. Anthony McAuliffe at the square named after him in Bastogne, Belgium. The ceremony was part of the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division parade through Bastogne, Belgium, during celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The Screaming Eagles helped break the Nazi siege of the town during the famous World War II battle.
Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division parade through Bastogne, Belgium, during celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. The Screaming Eagles helped break the Nazi siege of the town during the famous World War II battle. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
A 101st Airborne Division firing detail practices on McAuliffe Square before the parade and ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.
A 101st Airborne Division firing detail practices on McAuliffe Square before the parade and ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
A soldier talks to Battle of the Bulge veterans before a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the bloody World War II battle. More than 30 veterans turned up for the event.
A soldier talks to Battle of the Bulge veterans before a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the bloody World War II battle. More than 30 veterans turned up for the event. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

BASTOGNE, Belgium — American and Belgian flags flew side-by-side Saturday in celebration of U.S. soldiers who fought 75 years ago in the six-week Battle of the Bulge, a victory that thwarted the last major German offensive on the Western Front during World War II.

Several dozen veterans who fought in the campaign were in Belgium for the anniversary event, along with a new generation of service members keeping alive the memory of the role Americans played in ending Nazi tyranny.

On a road leading into the center of Bastogne from the barracks that housed Allied forces during the war, Jack Lazebnik and Blake Ritchey, both captains in the 101st Airborne Division, which fought to defend Bastogne, were besieged by photo seekers that included former service members from Germany.

"I'm from the 326th Engineer Battalion and we had a crucial role in holding a small part of the perimeter in the southwest of Bastogne," Ritchey said.

"He, as an infantryman," he said, pointing to Lazebnik, "they were on the eastern and northern sides. For us to be able to go to some of those spots has been incredible. The significance of the battle 75 years ago isn't lost on us."

A bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation and other dignitaries laid wreaths at monuments to Gen. George Patton, who led the 3rd Army as it broke through German lines around Bastogne, and Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, commander of U.S. forces in the city, who famously told the Germans "Nuts!" when they asked him to surrender.

"God truly blessed America with the veterans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who participated in the traditional throwing of nuts from the town hall balcony in honor of McAuliffe's famous retort.

The battle began north of Bastogne on Dec. 16, 1944, during a bitterly cold winter, and lasted until Jan. 25, 1945.

Between 63,222 and 98,000 Germans were killed, missing, wounded or captured during the campaign, while around 19,000 Americans were killed. It was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in WWII.

Launched in eastern Belgium by German forces who hoped to retake the port of Antwerp after driving a wedge between U.S. and British forces, the offensive caught U.S. forces convinced the war was almost over by surprise.

"Everybody was like, 'Hey, we're going home for Christmas,'" said Curtis Rhymer, dressed as a staff sergeant from the 30th Infantry Division and who had several relatives who fought in the battle. "The Americans had something like 17 miles between positions. The main units were pulled back to Paris for R&R. You had fresh units on the front who'd never seen combat."

Small American units delayed the German advance long enough to allow Patton to get to Bastogne and help McAuliffe's besieged forces.

Although the offensive was broken in late December, fighting continued for another month until the Germans had been pushed east to positions they held before the offensive started.

American George Abramshe, who lives near Ramstein Air Base in Germany, has attended Battle of the Bulge commemorations since the 1970s and has seen them grow from small parades to large multi-day events.

"A lot of Americans don't realize that this still goes on after 75 years," Abramshe said. "But it's really emotional that Europeans still thank us for liberating them.

""It's important that (today’s soldiers) see it firsthand and understand how important it was then and still is today."

zeitvogel.karin@stripes.com Twitter: @Stripeszeit

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