A larger than expected crowd of about 250 people gathered the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center today for a luncheon to honor veterans of the Battle of the Bulge during the national conference here.
Syndicated columnist George Will told the crowd, which included dozens of veterans, that although “you never imagined back then that you would be this old. And you can’t imagine now that you were once that young,” that they are remembered today for saving the world.
“I am proud,” he said, “to be in this room with so many unassuming, indisputable American heroes.”
More than 80 veterans of the month long World War II battle — the largest and bloodiest the U.S. Army ever fought. The “bulge” refers to the bulge in the front lines that occurred when German troops launched a massive and unexpected counter attack in the Ardennes forest in Belgium and Luxembourg beginning on Dec. 16, 1944.
The veterans and guests also heard a speech from George Patton “Pat” Waters, Gen. George S. Patton’s grandson. Waters even brought along the boots the famous general wore in the Ardennes when his Third Army rode the relief of the beleaguered troops and help close the bulge. They were a hit with the vets.
One of the veterans, Brownlee “Bob” Welsh of Charlotte, a reconnaissance soldier with the 87th Infantry Division, served with Patton in Third Army. He said he wished the flamboyant could be reincarnated.
“I would be happy to go with him to Afghanistan,” the 86-year-old said. “We’d clean that mess up.”
Welsh’s son, George, 45, of Baton Rouge, La., flew in to Columbia to be with his father for the event.
“It’s been great to talk to all the soldiers and hear all the stories,” he said, then chuckled. “I’m getting a lot of interesting information.”
The Bulge veterans were scheduled to take part in parade this afternoon along Assembly Street from downtown to Williams-Brice Stadium before the USC football game.
The vets will be honored in pre-game ceremonies.