Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the national commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day

Short speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the national commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Arromanches, France, 6 June 2014.

Your Majesties,
Your Royal Highness,
Secretary of State Arif,
Your Excellencies,
esteemed veterans,
ladies and gentlemen,

General Eisenhower once said that 'in the final choice a soldier's pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner's chains'.
And 70 years ago, that choice was there to be made.
D-Day, 6 June 1944, was a decisive moment in world history.
A day which millions of people throughout Europe had been fervently wishing for.
A day of hope.
After a long and dark period of oppression and persecution, without freedom or justice, suddenly there was the promise of regained liberty.
At last.
The feeling must have been indescribable.

We are on historic ground today.
This is where it all happened.
'Never had there been a dawn like this,' Cornelius Ryan wrote in his bestselling book The Longest Day.
And today, in the presence of the heroes of those days, history becomes tangible.
If we look out to sea, we might imagine we can see them.
The thousands of vessels, gathered off the French coast during the night.
In our minds, we can hear the throbbing engines of the endless procession of bombers, high up in the clouds, providing air support.
And we try to imagine the thoughts of the 200,000 Allied soldiers, who know they are about to put themselves in mortal danger.
Especially that first group of several thousand men, getting ready to storm the beaches.
Tense in every sinew of their bodies, but also determined to vanquish the enemy.

Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Today is a day for us to pay tribute to them.
We are, and always will be, grateful to all our liberators.
We are grateful to the Maquis, the brave men and women of the French resistance, who disrupted the war machines of the Nazis behind the lines.
And veterans, we are grateful to you.
For while in the history of mankind, freedom has seldom been received as a gift, rarely has it been gained at so high a cost.

D-Day was the beginning.
Freedom fanned out over Europe from the Normandy beaches.
But unfortunately not without a fight.
The final victory was still almost a year away.
A year of unimaginable destruction and innumerable casualties.
But also a year in which heroes stood up and evil was driven back step by step.
Until peace and freedom were established.

Lieux de mémoire, as our French hosts say, are being created at more and more sites of memorable events in that period.
Places of remembrance along the Routes of Liberation.
A Dutch initiative to this end has been taken up and is spreading to different countries.
That is important, because we need to continue to tell the stories of our liberation.
And not only the epic story of Operation Overlord.
But the smaller, more personal stories too.
That way, we keep the memories of the fallen alive.
That way, we do justice to the bravery and courage shown by you, our Dutch veterans, and all Allied veterans.
And that way, we can pass on the value of freedom to new generations. This is a continuing mission, for we must never take freedom for granted.
In that sense, it will still be D-Day tomorrow, the day after and all the days that follow.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In his famous 'letter to the troops', the order of the day for 6 June 1944, General Eisenhower marked the significance of D-Day in powerful terms.
'The tide has turned!
The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!'
(…)
'We will accept nothing less than full Victory!'

Today, 70 years on, those words have lost none of their strength.
On the contrary, they have gained in significance.
For the choice that was made then, the choice to restore freedom and human dignity, without compromise, must be our choice too.
Again and again.
Every single day.