Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
65th Anniversary of the End of World War II, Memorial Day Ceremony
The Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten
May 30, 2010
Good afternoon. Dear people of Margraten: Over 10 years ago, I last attended a Memorial Day Ceremony, here, in your town. And what I witnessed then has remained with me for over a decade now. I saw grandparents, parents, and children of Dutch families, who had each adopted the grave of an American, honoring their adopted sons and daughters, passing on a tradition of love and gratitude for Americans, who had come to this wonderful country—and never left.
The depths of your devotion were so impressive that I have included the people of Margraten, and what I witnessed, in many of my public remarks since. It is possible to love someone you have never met, someone to whom you have no familial tie, if your hearts are big and generous and full of thanks.
On 8 May 1945, the most destructive war in history came to an end in Europe. Victory came at a terrible price. Tens of millions had lost their lives and entire nations lay in ruins; but the allies were determined not to let Hitler’s Third Reich, with its ideology of subjugation, humiliation, and extermination, stand. Good people could not remain idle and let evil prevail on the continent of Europe. The allies were prepared to make whatever sacrifices, even greater ones if necessary, to keep the torch of freedom burning brightly in these lands where the United States has always had so many historical ties.
Americans chose not to ignore the savagery that stalked this continent. And so, as Allies, we acted; we joined together. And we sent our sons and daughters to fight.
President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “The history of free men is never really written by chance, but by choice—their choice.” Today, we gather to remember and honor the choices of those free men, who wrote a bright chapter of our shared history—and the young, who are buried here, were our deliverers from evil. They remain here, forever young, forever brave, forever remembered for their sacrifice—because the altar of freedom sometimes demands such homage to assure the defeat of evil and the preservation of liberty for all who cherish peace.
Here, in eternal repose, lie the remains of 8,302 Americans whose lives were given to free Europe from the shackles of tyranny. They came from small towns and big cities, from the industrial Northeast and the agricultural South, from the deserts of the Southwest and the forests of the Northwest, from all 50 of the United States and the District of Columbia.
These young were volunteers and draftees. 106 of them are known only to God; another 1,722 are memorialized among the missing, their names carved upon the walls in the Court of Honor. 80 now lie in eternal rest, side-by-side with brothers with whom they once shared the joys and rivalries of childhood.
On this, America’s Memorial Day, we come in remembrance and gratitude to give thanks for their service and their sacrifice. They prevailed in the battles for Maastrict and Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem. They secured town and countryside, field and forest, as they relentlessly marched towards the lair, where it all began.
Today, we also honor the bonds of friendship between the Dutch and American people, which were born in conflict but are preserved in the serene quiet of hallowed grounds like these. We offer our deepest thanks to her majesty the queen, to the people of the Netherlands, to our other allies—but most especially to the people of Margraten who have so warmly embraced our fallen.
May God bless all who bore the risks, who gave so selflessly, and who triumphed so magnificently, to save Europe and the world for all of us who are gathered here today.
On behalf of President Barrack Obama, America’s Veterans of all generations, and the people of the United States, thank you.