Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot on Memorial Day

On Sunday 26 May 2024, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot attended the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.

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Image: George Deswijzen

Your excellencies,

generals, veterans,

relatives of the brave people laid to rest here,

ladies and gentlemen,

James Ralph Anderson wasn’t scheduled to fly that day.

But when a fellow airman fell ill on the 9th of October 1944, he climbed aboard a B-17 bomber ordered to strike an aircraft plant in Marienburg.

The plane never returned.

Above the North Sea, northwest of Helgoland, one of the engines was hit by bullets and caught fire.

Within moments, a second engine was ablaze.

We will never know if James was one of the seven parachutists seen in the sky shortly after.

We will never know whether he perished inside the plane, or in the cold waters of the North Sea.

His remains were never found.

A few years ago, I cycled along the road past the endless rows of white crosses in the green expanse here at Margraten.

They made me think about the courage and sacrifice of soldiers like James.

Young men who travelled to a continent thousands of miles away, leaving behind everything they loved to fight for the freedom of people they had never met.

It humbles me to think that, without the courage and sacrifice of these young men, the fate of my country would have been very different.

Most of us have never experienced a life without freedom.

It was only when I served in Afghanistan as an artillery platoon commander that I realised how precious our freedom is,  and how swiftly it can be lost.

Even here, in the Netherlands.

Even here, we can’t take our freedom for granted, nor our values.

And we never should.

The war in Ukraine, the largest war on our continent since the Second World War, continues to show us that.

James was 23 when he died. The youngest soldier laid to rest here was only 17.

They were so very young.

And as those who survive advance in years,

there are so very few veterans still alive to tell us the stories we must continue to hear.

Yet, as the living memory of the Second World War fades, something beautiful and powerful continues to grow here in Margraten,  thanks to the people who take responsibility for remembering the past and protecting our future. 

People like Robbe Meers.

At the age of ten, Robbe adopted James’s name.

Soon after, together with his father, he began researching his history and locating his family.

Now, ten years on, he tends seven graves of fallen soldiers.

And he continues to lay flowers for James here at the Walls of the Missing, sending photos to his relatives in America.

His dedication does not stand on its own.

There’s currently a waiting list of people wanting to adopt the graves or names of those soldiers who were born half a world away, and who died decades ago. 

Their dedication has forged significant human connections, transcending borders, oceans, and generations.

Connections that serve as pillars of strength...

Aiding us with our responsibility, our imperative duty to protect the freedom and values of future generations,

just like James and his comrades protected ours.

Thank you.