Toespraak minister-president Rutte bij Memorial Day-herdenking

Toespraak van minister-president Mark Rutte bij de herdenkingsplechtigheid op de Amerikaanse begraafplaats in Margraten. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

White crosses as far as the eye can see. Endless waves of white lines washing over the green hills of Margraten.

It’s a sight that takes your breath away. A sight that makes you lost for words. It’s beautiful, and heart-breaking.

Because every white cross, every star of David, every name on the Walls of the Missing, represents a fallen hero. A soldier, a tank commander, a pilot or a nurse.

But also: a dear son, a beloved wife, an adored father or a close friend.

Mostly young people, often only in their early 20s. American men and women who served and fell on European soil. Who paid the highest price while fighting for our freedom.

Young people like Edward Norton and James Norton Jr from Conway, South Carolina. Better known as the ‘Norton twins’.

After completing their training on the 17th of May 1943, the twins flew their first mission over occupied Europe.  Edward as pilot, and James beside him as his co-pilot.

They flew at zero altitude, just above the ground, to drop their bombs as accurately as possible, and to minimise the chance of civilian casualties. It was extremely brave, but also highly dangerous, because it made them vulnerable to German anti-aircraft fire. And that proved fatal.

The Norton twins’ plane was hit over the Dutch coastal town of Ijmuiden, and crashed into the North Sea. Edward and James died as they had lived: side by side, inseparable.

And yet, it was in death that they were separated for the first time. James is buried here in Margraten: plot P, row 16, grave number 4. Edward’s body was never found. His name is on the Walls of the Missing.

The Norton twins will never be forgotten. Nor will any of the 8,288 American service personnel buried here and their 1,722 comrades on the Walls of the Missing.

We will remember their names. We will remember their stories. We will remember their sacrifices.

And that’s not just an abstract promise. I applaud the work of all the Dutch volunteers who are recording the personal stories of the fallen. Who are trying to find a picture of every person buried here, so it can be attached to their grave or their name. Who are caring for the graves and keeping in contact with the next of kin.

It illustrates the deep connection between our past and our present. Between the Netherlands and the United States. And it illustrates the immense gratitude we still feel.

Today, that feeling is stronger than ever. Because today, as war rages on our continent, we realise that living in peace is not a given. That freedom does not come free.

Freedom comes at a cost. It was true more than 75 years ago. And it is still true today.

Every name and grave here in Margraten reminds us not to take our freedom for granted. Not to forget the ultimate sacrifice of so many young people. But to remember every one of them. And to hand down their stories to future generations.

We owe it to the fallen.

We owe it to their families.

We owe it to ourselves.

Thank you.