On Feb. 23, 35 American troops recovering from wounds at military health-care facilities in Germany will step back in time when they join historians, veterans and military re-enactors for a special event commemorating the historic winter battles of 1945 that let to Allied victory in the European theater of World War II.
This is the 31st year that "In The Footsteps of the 82nd Airborne Division" has taken place in the rugged, hilly terrain of the Ardennes forest of southern Belgium. Each year, the event pays tribute to a different perspective based on the actions of various infantry regiments and attachments of the 82nd Airborne Division that fought in what was to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. And each march retraces an area in and around where the chosen regiment fought during the campaign.
This year's march of approximately 15 miles follows the route of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the Independent 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion.
Event founder and organizer Emile Lacroix, a native Belgian who was a small boy in 1944 when U.S. forces liberated his hometown, has never forgotten that moment and remains grateful to this day. Lacroix said he started the march to ensure that the "history and sacrifices of the troopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and its different units" are not forgotten.
Lacroix also wanted to bring people together who are interested in the history of the Battle of the Bulge and recognize pivotal events that took place on what was the northern shoulder of the battle. The annual event consistently draws thousands of marchers from all over western Europe, including historians, authors, re-enactors and civilians who lived through the battle and the occupation. U.S. and foreign active-duty military units stationed in western Europe also participate.
Over the years, Lacroix has received many accolades and tributes for his work in starting and organizing the event. On Feb. 25, 2012, he received the U.S. Army Civilian Award For Humanitarian Service, signed by U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command.
Legionnaire, veteran and World War II re-enactor Tommy McArdle will provide dispatches and photos from the march online at www.legion.org .