Luxembourg, US leaders commemorate Battle of the Bulge

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, U.S. Army Europe commander, left; Robert Mandell, U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, center; and U.S. Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc, U. S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, right, salute a wreath during the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge at the Luxembourg American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The government of Luxembourg and the U.S. Embassy held the memorial in honor of the veterans and fallen service members of the Battle of the Bulge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, U.S. Army Europe commander, left; Robert Mandell, U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, center; and U.S. Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc, U. S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, right, salute a wreath during the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge at the Luxembourg American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The government of Luxembourg and the U.S. Embassy held the memorial in honor of the veterans and fallen service members of the Battle of the Bulge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, center; Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg, center left; and Robert Mandell, U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, center right, walk to their seats before a commemorative ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The ceremony observed the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a six-week campaign in the Ardennes region Dec. 16, 1944 through Jan. 25, 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, center; Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg, center left; and Robert Mandell, U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, center right, walk to their seats before a commemorative ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The ceremony observed the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a six-week campaign in the Ardennes region Dec. 16, 1944 through Jan. 25, 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, center, and Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg, right, shake hands with World War II veterans during a commemorative ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The Duke held an audience with many of the veterans at the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg before the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, center, and Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg, right, shake hands with World War II veterans during a commemorative ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The Duke held an audience with many of the veterans at the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg before the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

A row of World War II veterans wait before a commemorative ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The veterans toured sites throughout Belgium and Luxembourg related to the Battle of the Bulge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

A row of World War II veterans wait before a commemorative ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The veterans toured sites throughout Belgium and Luxembourg related to the Battle of the Bulge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

U.S. Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, speaks during a ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial Dec. 16, 2014, in Luxembourg. The ceremony honored all veterans who fought during the Battle of the Bulge, which began Dec. 16, 1944. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

U.S. Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, speaks during a ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial Dec. 16, 2014, in Luxembourg. The ceremony honored all veterans who fought during the Battle of the Bulge, which began Dec. 16, 1944. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg places a flower on a memorial wreath during the Battle of the Bulge 70th Anniversary ceremony at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The cemetery holds 5,076 fallen American service members, many of whom lost their lives during the Battle of the Bulge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Warren/Released)

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg places a flower on a memorial wreath during the Battle of the Bulge 70th Anniversary ceremony at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The cemetery holds 5,076 fallen American service members, many of whom lost their lives during the Battle of the Bulge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Warren/Released)

A World War II veteran salutes a memorial wreath during the Battle of the Bulge 70th Anniversary ceremony at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The U.S. Embassy and government of Luxembourg hosted the ceremony to commemorate those who gave their lives during the battle, as well as the surviving veterans of World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Warren/Released)

A World War II veteran salutes a memorial wreath during the Battle of the Bulge 70th Anniversary ceremony at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The U.S. Embassy and government of Luxembourg hosted the ceremony to commemorate those who gave their lives during the battle, as well as the surviving veterans of World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Warren/Released)

George Merz, a World War II veteran, and Helen Patton, granddaughter of U.S. Army Gen. George Patton, pose for a picture after a ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery  and Memorial Dec. 16, 2014, in Luxembourg. Merz and other World War II veterans and their families attended the ceremony as well as Battle of the Bulge-related sites throughout Belgium and Luxembourg. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

George Merz, a World War II veteran, and Helen Patton, granddaughter of U.S. Army Gen. George Patton, pose for a picture after a ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial Dec. 16, 2014, in Luxembourg. Merz and other World War II veterans and their families attended the ceremony as well as Battle of the Bulge-related sites throughout Belgium and Luxembourg. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

Luxembourg Army soldiers stand in formation in front of a wall commemorating fallen American service members before the Battle of the Bulge 70th Anniversary ceremony at the Luxembourg American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The cemetery holds the bodies of 5,076 U.S. service members, 101 of whom are unknown. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

Luxembourg Army soldiers stand in formation in front of a wall commemorating fallen American service members before the Battle of the Bulge 70th Anniversary ceremony at the Luxembourg American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014. The cemetery holds the bodies of 5,076 U.S. service members, 101 of whom are unknown. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

LUXEMBOURG -- Nearly 200 Luxembourgers and Americans observed the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge during a commemorative ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, Dec. 16, 2014.

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg; Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg; Robert Mandell, U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg; U.S. Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa; and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, participated in the memorial service to honor those who fought and died in the battle from Dec. 16, 1944 through Jan. 25, 1945.

"The importance of the Allied victory cannot be understated," Gorenc said. "The defeat of the enemy in their biggest offensive in the West in World War II was a superb accomplishment."

Allied forces liberated Luxembourg from Axis occupation in September 1944. However, the heavily-wooded Ardennes region of the countryside served as a new battleground when enemy armies launched a surprise attack before dawn Dec. 16, 1944.

The initial advance produced confusion but met strong resistance from reinforced Allied armies in key cities in Belgium like St. Vith and Bastogne. The battle eventually resulted in a German defeat, emboldening Allied movements to the country's eastern and western fronts. 

"Air power certainly helped halt the last German advance of World War II," Gorenc said. "Airmen and Soldiers are forever linked here in the Ardennes and battlefields all over the world. The U.S. Air Force evolved from the Army Air Corps, and our service will continue to find innovative ways to protect them and provide them the supplies they need on the battlefield just like the Soldiers needed during the Bulge. As the commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, I am proud of the Army Air Corps Airmen who provided air support during the Battle of the Bulge. I am proud of the men and women who served during World War II and throughout our history in support of freedom. And I am proud of our Airmen."

The battle resulted in more than 19,000 American deaths with many buried in the Luxembourg cemetery, which was established in the middle of the conflict Dec. 29, 1944.

"The 5,076 Americans, including 22 sets of brothers, who died in the service of their country are buried here today," Hodges said. "This ceremony and this beautiful and peaceful cemetery are about commemorating their service and the service of many thousands of men and women who fought in this great battle. But it's also about something much bigger - it's about the concept of service to each other as Soldiers, as people, as nations. These Soldiers and Airmen buried here and in cemeteries all over Europe lived and fought for each other. They risked their lives for each other. They would have rather died in combat than to have failed their comrades or leave a comrade behind."

More than 20 World War II veterans attended the ceremony, many making the trip as part of anniversary tours throughout Belgium and Luxembourg at sites relating to the battle.

"For this achievement, each and every one of you have formed the everlasting gratitude of the Luxembourg people," Bettel said, on behalf of his fellow countrymen to the veterans. "Thank you so much for what you did for us and for what you are doing today."

To see more photos of the ceremony, visit the photo set at Spangdahlem's Flickr page.