Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A U.S. delegation and dozens of aging U.S. military veterans were in Belgium Monday for the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, one of the key fights of World War II.
The battle was Germany's last major offensive of the war on the Western Front intended to interrupt Allied forces at the port of Antwerp.
President Donald Trump sent a U.S. delegation led by Defense Secretary Mark Esper to Belgium to attend commemorative events Monday. Also part of the delegation is U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
"Today, we remember the more than 500,000 brave patriots who faced unimaginable peril, including the more than 19,000 who laid down their lives in the gallant stand against tyranny and oppression that would ultimately liberate Europe from Nazi control and secure a victory for the forces of freedom," Trump said in a statement Monday.
"In [the Nazis'] last effort to turn the tide of the war, they once again underestimated the resiliency and grit of the American troops.
"Seventy-five years later, we honor the remarkable bravery of the valiant heroes who fought in the 'Battle of the Bulge.' Part of the Greatest Generation, their sacrifices cemented a legacy of proud service and deep devotion to country that will continue to inspire generation after generation of their fellow Americans."
A bipartisan congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also made the trip to take part in ceremonies Monday and over the weekend.
The Battle of the Bulge began on Dec. 16, 1944 and continued into late January 1945. Thousands of U.S. soldiers died, and many were taken prisoner.
"The Germans were going to put artillery on us and we couldn't do anything about it," Herb Sheaner, who was 19 when he fought in the battle, told Stars and Stripes. "We had no defense. We hadn't eaten for five days. So we surrendered."
U.S. forces, however, eventually beat back the Nazi offensive and set up an invasion of Germany.
Pelosi participated in a ceremony Monday at the Mardasson Memorial honoring U.S. soldiers in Bastogne. She was joined by Esper, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Belgian Queen Mathilde and Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes.
Pelosi gave veterans like George Merz, 94, who made the trip with other veterans, commemorative coins marking the anniversary.
"I feel like I'm a part of these people," the Louisville, Ky., veteran said. "I feel like I've come home."
In Bethpage, N.Y., five veterans who survived the fight were honored Sunday at The Museum of American Armor. The event there included a parade of tanks and armored vehicles from the era.
"It's very important to keep this alive," Army veteran David Marshall, 95, said. "More and more people are beginning to realize what occurred and what World War II veterans did for the country. We're living in a free society because of what happened in World War II."