Toespraak minister van Defensie bij openingsceremonie 'D-Day vlag 75 jaar. Symbool van vrijheid'
Toespraak van minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten (Defensie) bij de openingsceremonie van 'D-Day vlag 75 jaar. Symbool van vrijheid' bij de Kunsthal in Rotterdam op maandag 4 februari 2019. Deze toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Ambassador, mister deputy mayor,
75 years ago, 150,000 allied troops made their way across the Channel to fight on the beaches of Normandy and beyond. Men, some of them still boys, from the United States, Canada, Britain and France. Flying in fighter planes and bombers, standing on the decks of ships, waiting in transport aircrafts with parachutes strapped to their backs. All of them on their way to pierce the Atlantic Wall. And by doing so, they would start to untangle Western Europe from the hands of the Nazi regime.
The sixth of June, 1944.
For the oppressed Europeans, this day would bring a dawn of hope.
For the allied boys and men, this could be the last day of their lives. Imagine them in the moments before the fight started. Lost in thought, in silent prayer, or perhaps acting tough, joking around with their comrades. They had said goodbye to their families, closed the door behind them, not knowing whether they would be coming back.
Among these courageous men was the American lieutenant Howard vander Beek, the grandson of a Dutch farmer. The 26-year-old skipper of LCC60 had just met his future wife. She was on his mind while he stood aboard his landing craft control boat, with its crew of 14.
There were 3 other LCCs, and together they were tasked with directing a large US landing fleet with troops, tanks and a mass of other armoured and soft skin vehicles to Utah beach. Among that fleet was another American soldier of Dutch descent: Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt junior. He had told Vander Beek beforehand: "My life is now in your hands".
On their way to Normandy, one LCC struck a mine, and the other two were disabled as well. And so the guidance of the first American invasion fleet to the French shore rested solely on the shoulders of the crew on board the LCC60.
By half past four in the morning, after navigating through a long and rough night, Vander Beek could see a silhouette of the shore. The men aboard the LCC60 were exhausted, and soaked from the wind and the waves.
But they were ready to do their duty. In total, the men were able to guide 19 attack waves to the shore. They spent 70 hours on the boat, operating on 4 hours of sleep and 1 hot meal in their stomachs. All around them was the smell of smoke, salt and diesel fumes, the sounds of hellfire, explosions, sinking vessels and cries of comrades in pain.
But through it all, they could see the Star-Spangled Banner growing in number; on land, sea and in the air. And they, too, had a flag that accompanied them on their journey of success.
It was this flag, frayed by water and wind and pierced by German machine gun fire that Howard vander Beek folded up and took with him when he returned to the US. He kept the flag for over half a century, until his death 5 years ago. To him, it was a reminder of his time in the service. To us, the Dutch people, it is a monument for the beginning of our liberation. A memory of the allied troops who risked and gave their lives for us.
We don't take that for granted. We commemorate your bravery and our freedom. And we cherish our Atlantic alliance. Of course, the Dutch-American ties are centuries old. Howard vander Beek had a Dutch grandfather. And just look at Ambassador Hoekstra: born in Groningen and raised in Holland, Michigan. But we got him back in 2018 when he became the US Ambassador to the Netherlands.
And of course there's Mr. Kreuk, the owner of this flag, who had a successful business in the United States for almost 2 decades. Thanks to Mr. Kreuk, we can now see this flag with our own eyes. It is rare to have such physical proof of the moment when others fought for us, when we had no more strength left.
Had they not shown this historic bravery, our world would be very different today. I'm doing my best to make sure that we increase our own military strength, with solid investments, so that we can do our part in this strong alliance.
This year, and the next, we're commemorating 75 years of peace. Every year, the war and D-Day seem further away and freedom has come to be normal. But every now and then a name surfaces from the past, their story is told, and we can see our history through their eyes. Their courage, their fear, their moments of despair, their devotion to our freedom.
Our servicemen and women today show the same devotion to freedom. Ready to protect what we value: our freedom, and that of the many people worldwide who wake up every day amid war and violence. And that is why we keep strengthening our military muscle. To prevent those dark nights of war and to fight for those who hope to wake to a new dawn of hope.