Brussels (Belgium), Dec. 26 (ANI): A fight is on to save the historic Bastogne military barracks in the Belgian Ardennes from closure.According to The Telegraph, the campaign follows the Belgian government's decision to close 23 barracks across the country by 2011, including the so-called 'Heinz' barracks at Bastogne where US General Anthony McAuliffe had his headquarters during famous Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
The announcement by defence minister Pieter de Crem has caused a storm of protest among US and British war veterans as well as many other people living in Belgium.
A war veteran's group has written to Howard Gutman, new-appointed American ambassador to Belgium, appealing to him to intervene and help halt the closure.
The barracks is the home of the Belgian 1st Field Artillery Regiment, currently deployed in Afghanistan, and also houses a small museum dedicated to the sacrifice made by US and British troops.
The Battle of the Bulge has special significance for allied war veterans as it is seen as key turning point in WW2.
From 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945, a snow-covered Bastogne was encircled by German troops and appeared set to capitulate.
Within the small town set deep in the Ardennes forest close to the border with Luxembourg were thousands of US soldiers, including the 101st Airborne Division, commanded by McAuliffe, whose HQ was in a cellar of the barracks now earmarked for closure.
It was from here on December 22, 1944 that the German Commander Heinrich Freiherr von Luttwitz sent McAuliffe a note demanding the Americans surrender, to which McAuliffe famously sent a terse reply, which read, "NUTS!"
The German offensive ended in failure and, with more than 19,000 deaths, the Battle of the Bulge became the single biggest and bloodiest battle US forces experienced in WW2.
Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery later said the battle was " one of the most tricky I have ever handled" and, addressing the House of Commons, Winston Churchill described it as "undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war."
The barrack's museum has been preserved in recent years by two retired Belgian soldiers, Eric Lemoine and Michel Marecaux, and their guided tours of it are popular, particularly among visiting US and British tourists and war veterans who are drawn to the area because of its history.
A Belgian government defence department official defended the decision to shut the barracks, saying it had "not been taken lightly."
He said that its possible conversion to a prison would help cope with an acute shortage of prison spaces in the country. (ANI)