Toespraak minister van Defensie bij Airborne herdenking Ginkelse Heide

Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten hield een toespraak bij de Airborne herdenkingen op de Ginkelse Heide.

Your Royal Highness Prince of Wales,  

Your Royal Highness Princess Beatrix, 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, 

Deputy Minister Paweł Woźny,  

Ambassadors, 

Veterans, military personnel, 

Distinguished guests, 

75 years ago, hundreds of parachutes filled these skies. 

To the Dutch people watching, they were a sign of hope after the long dark years of occupation… 

Like raindrops after a long dry spell. 

Let us try to imagine what it was like for those men.  

To stand aboard that plane. 

The rumble of the engine, the rush of wind. 

In the hours during their flight to the Netherlands, they had joked with each other, smoked a cigarette in silence, or said a prayer.  

But now, they are standing in line, looking at the red light. 

Pure adrenaline and focus. 

And then, the light turns green. 

One by one, they jump.  

With nothing between them and the ground other than the wind, silk and ropes, and months of training locked in their bodies and minds. 

As we know, the battle that ensued  was tough… brutal… vicious. 
It cost many lives: 
British, American, Canadian, Polish and Dutch. 

I have in mind a story, told by Stephen Morgan, one of the ‘Arnhem Boys’, whose photo we can see outside the Airborne Museum. 

In Operation Market Garden, Stephen was just 19 years old! 

At one point, he stood for hours underneath the Arnhem bridge. 

Surrounded by Nazi snipers and infantry. 

Many of his company had been killed or wounded by the enemy. 

His lieutenant, John Grayburn, tapped him on the shoulder, saying: “Time to go, lad” and Stephen ran across the road towards slit trenches. 
The lieutenant followed, but immediately got hit.  
Lying on the ground, he shouted to Stephen: “Leave me, I’m dying.” 
An officer hidden among the ruins shouted to the lieutenant:  
“How bad is it?”  
And he repeated: “Leave me, I’m dying.”  
The officer shouted out: “Goodbye, dear boy.” 

Lieutenant John Grayburn died that day, aged 26. 
He was buried in the Airborne Cemetery, at Oosterbeek. 
His was one of the many young and promising lives that ended in this fight for our freedom. 
He was awarded the Victoria Cross after his death. 

Stephen Morgan received the greatest prize: a long and happy life.  
He died earlier this year at the age of 93… 
His ashes were interred at Oosterbeek yesterday. 
Rest in peace, dear boy. 
 
I regret not meeting him. 

But I am thankful that I did meet several veterans today and yesterday who saw action in Market Garden. 
When I stand before these men, and look them in the eye, I still see the courageous young men who jumped to fight for freedom. 

When I shake their hand, I shake hands with history. 

The history of the freedom we have today. 

And when I meet the men and women who serve our armed forces today…  
I see the same courage in their eyes. 

I see the choice they made to serve their country and freedom worldwide; even though they themselves grew up in peace. 

They know that freedom needs our constant attention. 

When I meet them, I shake hands with the future. 
Because these are the men and women we rely on to keep us safe in years to come.   

We rely on their ability to cooperate at an international military level. 
 
Especially when it comes to NATO, our unity is our strength. 
We’ve seen this during the amazing Falcon Leap we just witnessed. 
Your Highness, as the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, you probably agree with me….  

These paratroopers are carrying on a very powerful tradition: that as Allies, together, we protect what we hold dear — our security and our freedom. 

Thank you.