16.12.04

OPERATION WACHT AM RHEIN. Some veterans of the Battle of the Bulge are with us today. "Whenever the convoy slowed, we jumped off the trucks to get [retreating troops'] ammo, hand grenades and guns," Lieutenant Vincent Vicari, from the 101st Airborne, recalls. The 101st, recall, was supposed to have been winkled out of Bastogne in the second day of the German offensive. Nuts to that.

War historians offer a mixed verdict: the Battle of the Bulge delayed the Allied timetable for victory in Europe by at least six weeks, but by depleting the best of Hitler's forces, it made the final push to Berlin less costly in the long run.

Bastogne today is a tourist favorite that annually celebrates its famous survival. It has a Place McAuliffe and even a Rue Nuts.

The town of LaRoche, Belgium, nearly destroyed in the campaign, now offers a different kind of Lebensraum.
"We have space here, which others don't have, where people can just get away to breathe freely for a couple of days," says [Mayor Jean-Pierre] Dardenne, pointing out that 66 million Europeans live within 200 miles of La Roche.
And at least for now, people have reason to visit, or perhaps Belgium is discovering suburban sprawl.

Tourism is replacing farming as the economic mainstay, and the population is growing fast.

Like other towns across the Ardennes, La Roche will hold ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the battle. The biggest will be in Bastogne, where King Albert II plans to greet American veterans.

Dardenne acknowledges that with the passing of time, interest in the liberation is waning. Many villages stopped commemorating the battle after the 50th anniversary.

Perhaps, although people still visit Gettysburg in large numbers.

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