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Luxembourg Holds Massive World War II Liberation Celebrations  - 2004-09-10

Luxembourg was only a brief stop for American forces sweeping through France on their way to Germany in World War II. But the liberation of the tiny country of 450,000 left strong memories.

There were bands, speeches, church services, and commemoration medals as this small country looked back to remember the day that its precious freedom was restored from German occupation.

In one ceremony at Luxembourg's American military cemetery, where General George Patton is buried, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker hailed the American contribution.

"This is a day of thankfulness to these brave American soldiers who from the other side of the ocean came to Europe, and came to this tiny country, to liberate this country," the prime minister said.

Luxembourg invited 20 American veterans who took part in the liberation 60 years ago, to return to the country for observances. The oldest of those, 90-year-old John Colligan of New York, said recognition means a lot.

"These people, 60 years later, they're doing it because of appreciation," he said. "And that's a long time to keep your mind set that you want to show your appreciation. I admire them for that."

Colligan was 29-years-old when he rode into Luxembourg on a tank. This is the first time he has returned to Luxembourg since those days in World War II. He wants to thank the country for remembering the sacrifices that Americans made.

"You know, what I do every day, every day, of these last couple years, with 9/11, I tell them, 'look, these people over there remembered us 60 years later.' And you know why I'm here today, for every American that fought in that war, to thank these people for recognizing us," he said.

Luxembourgers have their own perspectives on the war. For 82-year-old Victor Fischbach, it was unique. He was forced into the German army like many other able-bodied Luxembourg men. But he later escaped, and, with the help of a priest, spent 13 months hiding in a Luxembourg church with several of his countrymen. Mr. Fischbach says liberation will never be forgotten by Luxembourg.

"When an American speaks about Europe he must think that Luxembourg is, maybe, the best friend, the strongest friend," said Mr. Fischbach. "And we'll never forget what we are owing to America. From time to time, I go to the military cemetery, the American cemetery. I go alone and I cry, I cry. I can't help, I cry. And I say, go there. If you don't believe any more in America. Go there, and you will find again, and see again what they have done for us."

While this year's commemorations are massive, the warm appreciation of American heroism has been kept alive for a long time. There are more than 65 memorials dedicated to U.S. forces in Luxembourg and individual village celebrations have been a regular event for many years. Luxembourgers say time may pass, but memories remain.