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Thank those willing ‘to do something’

Seventy-five years ago, the greatest battle in American military history — the U.S. army’s words, not ours — took place in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

More than 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks attacked the front line manned by U.S. soldiers, hoping to split the Allied forces and change the outcome of World War II.

The Germans were successful in surprising Allied forces at the Battle of the Bulge, but not in winning the fight. American armed forces bore the brunt of the attack, and suffered the highest casualties of any operation during the war.

“After a day of hard fighting, the Germans broke through the American front, surrounding most of an infantry division, seizing key crossroads, and advancing their spearheads toward the Meuse River, creating the projection that gave the battle its name,” according to the Army’s website. “Eisenhower rushed reinforcements to hold the shoulders of the German penetration. Within days, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. had turned his Third U.S. Army to the north and was counterattacking against the German flank.”

As the story goes, when the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne was asked by the Germans to surrender or face destruction, he responded, “Nuts!”

The battle continued through January, when American forces restored the front and eventually won. After the fighting ended on Jan. 28, 1945, Allied forces invaded Germany, eventually leading to the Nazi surrender and the end of the war in Europe.

Winston Churchill said following the battle: “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”

The soldiers wading through snow drifts while taking enemy fire during Christmas didn’t know this at the time. They likely didn’t realize they had prevented Hitler from changing the course of the war.

“They really didn’t tell us anything,” Pvt. Arthur Jacobson told The Associated Press. “The Germans had attacked through Belgium, and we were there to do something about it.”

While watching the Brookhaven Christmas Parade last week, we were reminded of the brave men who went to war “to do something about it” all those years ago.

A van carrying World War II veterans was part of the parade, and they smiled and waved through the open side door as the vehicle made its way along the route. How many parade-goers knew they were watching history pass by them?

Time is now taking more veterans than the Germans ever could. It’s estimated that only about 380,000 Americans who served in the war are alive today. That number will shrink greatly next year.

On this anniversary of one of the greatest battles in American military history, take a moment to thank those who served while you still can.

The world as we know it today was bought with the sacrifices they made 75 years ago.