There was little to celebrate at Christmas in 1944 for American soldiers pinned down by the German Army in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium and Luxembourg. Instead of a warm meal and time with family, they were facing record-low temperatures and a shortage of food. The men on the frontlines dug into the snow to defend against the enemy at the Battle of the Bulge and ended up dealing a critical blow to the Nazi regime.
100-year-old World War II veteran Bill Strauss of Salem, Arkansas is one of the brave men from the Greatest Generation who won’t forget that Christmas. Earlier this year, Strauss shared with me his experiences in one of the deadliest battles in American history. He detailed the bitter cold and dire conditions. With lack of sleep and dwindling supplies, he and his fellow troops endured this extreme test of will and resolve.
On December 16, 1944, American soldiers were unexpectedly attacked by Germans forces. The six-week battle demonstrated the commitment, courage and resilience of American soldiers. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it “the greatest American battle of the war.” It would be the German’s last major offensive in Western Europe in World War II, and it came at a considerable cost. More than 89,000 American soldiers were casualties including 19,000 soldiers killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 captured or missing in action.
I recently led a delegation of senators to events commemorating the 75thanniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. I was honored to visit with American veterans who fought in the battle and were returning to the land they’d defended. There are fewer and fewer who are able to join, but that doesn’t diminish what they did there or the steadfast way they fought and sacrificed in the name of freedom.
The people of Belgium and Luxembourg have a close place in their hearts for American soldiers who sacrificed their lives on foreign soil. Following World War II, the Belgian people raised money to build a memorial to show their appreciation for the selfless sacrifice of American troops. The Mardasson Memorial was dedicated in 1950. The walls of the star-shaped structure commemorate the battle, paying tribute to the units that fought there and representing the states where those wounded or whose lives were lost hailed from.
This memorial is in need of repairs. That’s why I support legislation that would let experts at the American Battle Monuments Commission oversee its restoration. Maintaining this memorial is critical to ensuring it continues to stand as a monument to the sacrifices made by Americans at the Battle of the Bulge.
We can be proud of the unwavering bravery of the American troops and the Allied Forces whose efforts defeated the German attack and led to the end of the Nazi regime. I was honored to support the Senate-passed resolution recognizing the 75thanniversary of this battle and honoring the heroism of the troops who helped secure this victory. As we reflect on this occasion, let us preserve the legacy of brave individuals like Bill Strauss and countless others whose courage and sacrifice secured peace in Europe.