Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane took the microphone from Sanibel Veterans Group chairman Ted Tyson to hand out individually prepared proclamations to veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Tuesday at the flag pole area outside City Hall.
The Battle of the Bulge to this day remains, according to British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, "Undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war." It is the costliest military action fought by the U.S. Army with more than 100,000 American casualties resulting in 19,000 deaths, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 captured POWs or missing. Celebrating the 68th anniversary, only about 3,000 veterans engaged in the Battle of the Bulge are still alive around the nation.
That includes Sanibel residents Robert Hilliard and John Vitale.
A veteran plays Taps to close the Battle of the Bulge veterans ceremony at Sanibel City Hall.
"I think it is important to recognize what happens in wars," said Hilliard, who served in the 2nd Infantry. "Hopefully, we can learn what to do to avoid future wars. I have a Purple Heart to prove it."
Vitale, who served in the 327th Fighter Control for the U.S. Air Force, was stunned when he learned about Tuesday's ceremony.
"I think this is great," Vitale said. "I couldn't believe it when I read about this in the paper. I've never seen anyone honor Battle of the Bulge veterans before. You see Iwo Jima and D-Day, but never the Bulge. I was part of D-Day, too."
The two islanders were among a dozen veterans honored with the proclamations before shuffling off to Cip's Place to lunch together and share war stories.
The Battle of the Bulge was the last major German offensive of World War II, taking place in the Ardennes Forest region from southern Belgium, Luxembourg and into Germany. The battle lasted for three weeks in one of the most severe winter storms ever incurred in the region.
The Germans wanted to split the Allied forces in the north and south, driving through a weak point between the Allies creating a bulge for which the battle was named.
As portrayed in the major film "Patton," General George S. Patton's Third Army turned from Lorraine to rescue the beseiged town of Bastogne. The liberation of Bastogne in January 1945 broke the back of the German offensive and led to the end of the European conflict just four months later.
The 12 Battle of the Bulge veterans honored at Tuesday's ceremony include:
Robert Hilliard, Joseph DiGregorio, Everett Howland, Charles Evans, Norval Williams, Edward Linder, William Thomas, Edward ZabKar, Kaliel Sheheen, Franklin Dentz, John Vitale, Richard Corbin.