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Today, America marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the invasion of Normandy, France, which marked the beginning of the end of World War II.

We have all seen images of the devastating aftermath of that gruesome battle on the Atlantic beaches bordering German-occupied France. Rows of white gravestones in the fields surrounding the site of the Allied invasion of June 6, 1944. On that day alone, 2,501 Americans lost their lives.

I always wanted to visit Normandy when I travelled to France, but our travel plans took us elsewhere. It is a regret that I am reminded of every year on June 6th when the anniversary is celebrated, especially this year on the 80th.

But the invasion of Normandy was only the beginning of the end of this terrible war. The troops had to fight their way through France to defeat Nazi Germany.

Not many of us are aware of the battle that occurred six months later that was just as devastating as the Normandy invasion. It was the Battle of the Bulge. It began on December 16, 1944, and lasted just over a month. The U.S. Army lost 19,000 men, and there were 75,000 American casualties in total, making this the deadliest battle of World War II.

The details of this battle and the invasion of Normandy on June 6 can be found in numerous histories, even on Google, where I found some of the statistics cited here.

I do not want to recount history here, but rather give an account of my trip to Europe as a tourist, during which we traveled by bus from Paris to Germany, passing through the small country of Luxembourg, which, along with Belgium and of course Germany, was the scene of much of the Battle of the Bulge.

A few years ago, while driving through Luxembourg on American Memorial Day, our bus made an unscheduled stop at a huge cemetery where countless American flags were waving in the wind. It was the American cemetery that had been built to bury our dead from the Battle of the Bulge.

We were told that the land had been ceded to the United States and that we were standing on American soil when we visited the cemetery. Of course, it was a beautiful carpet of grass, with rows and rows of white headstones of American men who had fallen in the Battle of the Bulge – thousands of American “boys,” as they are sometimes called, who lost their lives defending their freedom far from home. The sight is very similar to the cemetery in Normandy, and the number of dead is similar too.

But there is one big difference. One grave can be seen apart from the other graves, seemingly at the head of the army lying in the field. It is the grave of General George S. Patton Jr., the American general who led our forces in the Battle of the Bulge and was of course one of the most iconic generals of that war. Patton was not killed in action, but died in a car accident shortly after the end of the war.

It is difficult to describe how one feels when one is unexpectedly thrust into such a scene. It is almost overwhelming and emotional to stand among all those graves with the American flag flying on Memorial Day in the heart of Europe.

I think we spent an hour at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg before continuing our journey. But it does give one something to think about, and it is an experience I recall often, especially when we honor those who have served, as we did today and just a week ago on the annual Memorial Day.

I was a little kid on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, but I don’t remember that. But I do have vivid memories of the Korean War, which started just five years after the end of World War II, and of course Vietnam, when I was old enough to serve in the military, and I did, I was in the National Guard, but I wasn’t drafted.

And now more and more wars are invading our daily lives, fortunately without direct American involvement, but the danger remains. I look at young men like my five grandchildren and think of the terrible grief of the families of the war dead in the cemetery in Luxembourg and in Normandy.

Anyone who has lived as long as I have has experienced far too much war and too little peace. War and peace… hmm, that sounds like peace.

Jim Heffernan is a former news and opinion writer for the News Tribune and continues to work as a columnist. You can reach him at

[email protected]

and maintains a blog at

Jim Heffernan

Jim Heffernan

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