Marking “An ever famous American Victory”

Dotted across the pristine grounds of Arlington National Cemetery are dozens of commemorative monuments and memorials recognizing individuals, military units, wars, battles and other historical events. On a quiet corner, not far from the Tomb of the Unknowns, stands a chest-high memorial to what Winston Churchill described as “undoubtedly, the greatest American battle of the war.”

Churchill spoke those words to the British House of Commons on January 18, 1945, a month and two days after an attack by German forces caught Allied armies by surprise. The protrusion in the lines caused by the limited German advance gave this campaign its prevalent name: The Battle of the Bulge. 

The Battle of the Bulge Memorial is designed in Greek temple style, with a pitched top supported by a Doric column on each side. The monument is built of white Vermont granite. It bears the inscription “Triumph of Courage” and is dedicated to “World War II American Soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the Greatest Land Battle in the History of the United States Army”.  

The Battle of the Bulge, known more formally as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was Hitler’s last major attack in Western Europe, a final gambit to stop the Allies steady advance from the west which had begun after the Normandy invasion.

His plan was risky.

A massive force of 45 divisions would attack through the Ardennes Forest of southeastern Belgium, Northeastern France and Luxembourg against exhausted and unprepared Allied troops.  German forces would then push northwest and retake the port of Antwerp, Belgium, denying its use as a vital supply link to the Allies quickly advancing armies.  

This would be a blitzkrieg attack, relying on surprise, speed, and captured Allied fuel to be successful. Hitler’s ultimate goal was to divide and encircle the US 12thand British 21stArmy Groups, then force a negotiated peace on his terms. 

The famous “Bulge” in the lines is depicted on this map from American Military History, Volume II, Chapter 5, published by the US Army Center for Military History

While Hitler’s senior advisors counseled against the attack, Hitler judged the Americans unable to withstand the massive blow he envisioned and he ordered the attack to proceed. 

Before dawn on December 16, the German launched a three pronged attack along a 40-mile corridor with over 250,000 troops.  Rainy, foggy weather covered the attack and kept Allied planes on the ground. At first, the assault moved quickly. Initially the Germans encountered American units either diminished from earlier combat operations or newly deployed and untested. Advancing German forces cut off and surrounded many US units, including the 106th and 28th Divisions. While the Germans captured over 8,000 prisoners, they also met determined resistance which began to slow their advance. 

Shoulder Insignia of the 106th Infantry Division The 106th Division’s 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments were encircled and captured during the initial German attack on 16 December. The remnants of the division were able to join other US units in the successful and heroic defense of St. Vith, an Ardennes City with several key road junctions.

One example that has become part of American military lore is the experience of the 101st Airborne Division, which was centered on the Belgium town of Bastogne. The 101st Airborne was rushed to Bastogne arriving on 19 December to relieve other American forces and help defend the city.  Bastogne was the junction of seven roads which traversed the Ardennes and was vital to the German advance, making the 101st’s mission of holding the town critical.

Shoulder Insignia of the 101st Airborne Division – The 101st received its “Airborne” designation in 1942. In addition to its service during the Battle of the Bulge, the division fought with great distinction during the Normandy invasion, Operation Market Gardens and in the liberation of the Netherlands. 

Soon surrounded by German forces and running low on ammunition, food and other supplies, the 101st withstood continued German attacks. When a German commander demanded the surrender of the American defenders of Bastogne, the acting division commander, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe famously replied “Nuts” in a written response.  The 101stwould hold their position until December 26th, when the US 4thArmored Division broke through the German lines and provided necessary relief.  

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, acting 101st Division Commander at Bastogne – US Army Photo

While the Germans took the Allies by surprise and achieved some initial success, they did not meet their objective of retaking Antwerp nor dividing the allies and forcing a settlement. Tenacious defenses by American units denied access to key transit routes through the Ardennes, slowing the German assault. Clearer weather allowed Allied air forces to return to the skies. The advance was ultimately blocked and Allied armies began maneuvering in order to launch counterattacks against the salient in the lines. Meeting ever stiffer resistance and lacking fuel, German forces withdrew back toward their original positions by January 25th. Through it all, the Germans sustained critical equipment and manpower losses they could not replace while only delaying the Allied advance east by about 6 weeks. 

The victory came at a tremendous cost to the US Army.  The Allies would commit over 700,000 troops to countering this German advance, approximately 610,000 were US soldiers. The US Army sustained over 89,000 casualties during the fighting, including 19,000 killed during combat.  These were the highest American losses for a single operation during World War II.  

Soldiers of the 347th U.S. Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division, receive rations in La Roche, Belgium in this January 13, 1945 US Army photo. Note the soldiers’ heavy winter weather gear. The winter of 1944-1945 was one of the coldest on record. 

In 1981, several veterans of the battle founded the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge® to perpetuate the memory of the sacrifices involved during the battle and to preserve historical information about it. The group was instrumental in building the Battle of the Bulge Memorial, lobbying Congress to authorize its location in Arlington National Cemetery, raising funds from the Governments of Belgium and Luxembourg for its construction and organizing its dedication in 2006. 

Today, this veterans group is known as the Battle of the Bulge Association® and remains active in commemorating the battle and honoring the sacrifices of the brave men and woman who secured victory.

The newsletter archives available online contain a treasure trove of firsthand accounts of the battle submitted by members through the years. These vivid narratives convey the courage, tenacity and ingenuity of American soldiers which were indispensable in securing what Churchill would predict would be “an ever famous American Victory”….

Arlington National Cemetery: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Argonne Cross

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The best known memorial of World War I in the Washington area is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Following World War I, many countries adopted the practice of burying the unidentified remains of one solider in a place of high honor. Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier in 1921 in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

On Memorial Day of that year, four caskets containing remains of unidentified soldiers were exhumed from American cemeteries in France and brought to the City Hall in Chalons-en-Champagne in northeast France. There, on October 21, Army Sergeant Edward Younger, a highly decorated combat veteran, selected the casket that would come to rest in Arlington.

The casket was transported back to the United States, and after lying in state at the Capitol, the unknown soldier was buried on November 11, 1921. Five years later, Congress authorized the marble structure we see today at the Tomb, which was ultimately completed in 1931. Since July 2, 1937, the Tomb has been under 24 hour guard by U.S. Army soldiers. Today, a special platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guards the Tomb.


Sections 18, 19, 34 and the Argonne Cross

Because of the large number of American deaths overseas in World War I (approximately 116,000), the U.S. Government was faced with a critical decision in the immediate aftermath of the war: What would be done with the remains of America’s fallen soldiers? Would they be permanently interred in Europe or would the remains be brought back to the United States for burial?

Some believed it was best for the soldiers to be buried in Europe–among the comrades they fought with and in the countries they died defending. But ultimately, public sentiment favored giving the soldiers’ families the option of returning the remains to the United States.

Eventually, 46,000 remains were repatriated. Over 5,000 would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, many in Sections 18 and 19. Also found in Section 18 is the Argonne Cross which commemorates the principal American offensive of World War I, the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.


This was the largest offensive in U.S. military history, involving 1.2 million troops. It lasted 47 days beginning on September 26, 1918 and ending with the armistice on November 11.  The battle cost 26,277 American lives. The cross was erected in 1923 after many of the burials of World War I soldiers at Arlington.

gen-pershing-headstone_travel-objective-dcThe commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General of the Armies* John J. Pershing is also buried in Arlington, in adjoining Section 34 on a hill overlooking the men he commanded. A simple, government issued headstone marks his grave, alongside a spruce tree, placed in 1989 by the No Greater Love organization in memory of all Americans who died in World War I.

* Through much of its history, the highest rank in the U.S. Army, outside of the time of major wars, has been a two star major general. During World War I, Congress authorized the appointment of three star lieutenant generals and four star generals to be granted temporarily. John J. Pershing was promoted to general in October 1917. In 1919, by Congressional directive, the rank of General of the Armies was formally established and General Pershing became the first person to hold the rank.


* * *


Arlington National Cemetery is located in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The cemetery is at the end of Memorial Avenue, which extends west from the Lincoln Memorial, across the Memorial Bridge. Memorial Avenue intersects with the George Washington Memorial Parkway, just west of the Memorial Bridge. Arlington Cemetery is accessible from the major highways in the area such as Interstate 95, Interstate 395, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (I-295). There is paid parking on site.

METRO: There is also a stop for Arlington National Cemetery along the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) Blue Line.

A Century Later, We Can Still Remember

Every year since 1918, the United States has observed the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in a special way. As many high school history students can tell you, this was the effective time and day of the armistice which ended World War I.

As significant as it was, World War I does not resonate in the American psyche as does World War II or the Civil War. But it is hard to overstate its impact. World War I ushered in a completely new type of war, marked by huge armies, massive causality rates, multiple theaters of operation, the mobilization of national economies and the application of modern, industrial technologies to warfare.

A soldier from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The first widespread and tactically significant use of aircraft, submarines, tanks, machine guns and chemical weapons occurred in World War I. Though fought a century ago, the impact of World War I remains with us today. Balkan civil wars, the status of Northern Ireland and much of the ethnic conflict in the Middle East can all be traced directly to World War I and its settlement.

April 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. The war greatly changed America. The United States greatly expanded its armed forces to fight the conflict. By the war’s end, there were over 4 million troops under arms.

Statue of General John Pershing

America emerged from World War I as an economic,political and military power. Washington, DC grew quickly and many temporary buildings were erected for government workers busy building up the armed services and managing aspects of the economy.

Few traces of those changes can be seen today but there are important memorials to the soldiers who fought in the war. The centennial of America’s entry into the “Great War” provides a suitable occasion to visit these landmarks and honor those who served.

This month Travel Objective: DC highlights a few World War I landmarks that are accessible from downtown Washington and easily added to most visitors’ itineraries. We organized the landmarks by geography for convenient trip planning. Please click on the links below for more information, including a Route Recon for how to get there.


  • Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
  • Sections 18, 19, 34 and the Argonne Cross


  • District of Columbia War Memorial


  • First Division Monument
  • Second Division Memorial
  • Pershing Park

If you are interested in learning more about the U. S. experience in the “the Great War,” visit the website of the United States World War I Centennial Commission. The commission was founded by Congress in 2013 to educate Americans about the war and to organize and promote various commemorative activities. You can learn more about the proposed National World War I memorial, review historical information and even sign up to volunteer in your community. It would be a fitting tribute to all those men and women, soldiers and civilians, who answered the country’s call a century ago.