Memorial Day 2012 at Luxembourg American Cemetery

U.S. Army Europe Commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, reflects on the high price of freedom during the 2012 Memorial Day Ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery on May 26, 2012. Video courtesy of American Forces Network Europe.

Video Transcript: 

LT. GEN MARK HERTLING: This weekend, America honors those who gave their all for freedom and liberty. We memorialize the brave men and women who sacrificed for a cause greater than themselves. Just like here, there are dignitaries from the United States, generals, ambassadors, statesmen, politicians, traveling through various battlefields throughout Europe, all speaking about heroes -- our soldiers -- who gave so much for others.

Throughout history, armies have marched over ground to conquer it, to enslave the people, or to take the resources as their own. But as a soldier of the U.S. Army, the only ground our nation wants to occupy is ground like this … where we bury our dead. Our nation desires only liberty. Sometimes those who do not fight and die for the opportunity to be free often do not understand the high price that is paid for liberty. I have not found that to be the case here in Luxembourg. For me, the local citizens of the towns and villages throughout Luxembourg, who watch over the cemeteries and remember our soldiers with monuments, represent how everyone should remember our soldiers.

It’s very quiet now. Listen to that quiet. But sixty eight years ago, battles raged in the cities and villages near here. Artillery pierced the air. Bullets screamed. Airplanes flew low. And in the sixty eight years since then, the seeds of hope and joy and freedom, planted and watered with the blood and tears of these young men who rest out there, have blossomed. And the citizens of Luxembourg have remembered. I learned that last spring, when I visited a small town strategically located, called Clervaux. We were on a battlefield staff ride with many of my commanders, studying the gruesome fighting that marked the beginning of the Ardennes offensive. We spent a day in Clervaux.

The citizens of the town found we out we were there, and they asked us to lay a wreath on one of the memorials in their city. Although I've laid wreaths at monuments to our fallen all across Europe, what was remarkable and moving was the enormous effort by the members of le Cercle d'Etudes sur la Bataille des Ardennes (Ceba), (the Center for the Study of the Battle of the Ardennes) to preserve the memory of the soldiers who fought and died in that town, and in many others towns throughout Luxembourg. In November, 1944, Clervaux had been liberated from four years of German occupation. The citizens were beginning to speak French again, and they no longer were wearing the pins which stated "Heim ins Reich." The city was returning to the peaceful life it knew before 1940. But in the pre-dawn hours of a cold and snowy 16 December, the quiet was shattered by the crash of a seemingly endless artillery barrage, which foreshadowed an assault from some of Germany's most elite troops in a desperate bid to divide allied lines. After hours of vicious street to street fighting, the men of Pennsylvania's 28th division, some of whom lay in rest here, scrambled into the castle of Clervaux to make a final stand. Stung by massive artillery fire, and surrounded by a sea of tanks and German Infantry, they put up a stubborn defense, hanging on desperately until they were out of ammunition and the castle of Clervaux lay in burning ruins around them. As the panzers broke through their last defense, the few men left were forced to surrender. But their sacrifice was not lost on the citizens of Clervaux. On that day, the citizens saw first-hand the price those young Americans made to defend a country they did not know, to defend a people they had never met. After the tide was turned, and the soldiers of 12 different U.S. divisions liberated Clervaux once again, the people of the town were determined to honor the legacy of those brave young men.

The citizens have adopted the veterans of Clervaux as their own. Today, the people of that small Luxembourg town have hosted veterans and their families for sixty-eight-years in annual commemorations to thank them for their sacrifice. Many of the men who perished in frigid December battles -- at Clervaux, at Berle', at Moutfort, at Pe'tange, at Vianden, and at many other -- are interred here at Hamm. Forever young. But their legacy will live on. That legacy will live on thanks to the people of Clervaux, and to the people of Luxembourg. On the hallowed grounds of the this cemetery, under the eternal gaze of that angel of peace up there lie interred 5,076 young American men and one American woman. 371 more are memorialized on the pylons flanking the chapel. This cemetery was established on 29 December, 1944, only 13 days after the enemy assault on the Ardennes.

Although Scott and the American Battle Monuments Commission preserve this sacred place with diligent reverence, the people of Luxembourg bless us with their continued service in honoring these heroes. And every year since 1945, American people and the Duchy of Luxembourg have commemorated memorial day here. I would suggest the most heartfelt tribute paid by the people of Luxembourg who continue to visit these graves, and who leave a small token of respect to soldiers who their only connection is eternal gratitude. But the soldiers who are lying out there, all 5,000 plus, continue to do their duty just like the soldiers do today, because they remind us of that sacrifice. Sixty eight years have brought healing and hope to Europe, and a friendship between Luxembourg and America that is born through a common love of freedom. But today our young men and women, as already has been mentioned, are part of an alliance on other battlefields in distant lands, where the cost of liberty is no cheaper than it was in 1944. Soldiers, just like those standing in formation from the three four Infantry who just returned from Afghanistan, still today soldiers remind us of our commitment to one another. And our commitment to freedom. The price of liberty is high. Those who are asked to pay that price should remain in our memory and they should remain forever young. I believe the people of Luxembourg understand that, and for this old soldier and his wife will be forever grateful. Thank you very much, and God bless you all.