Memorial Day remarks as presented by U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Fay Hartog-Levin at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial Margraten
Your Majesty, Secretary Shinseki and members of the Presidential delegation, Minister van Middelkoop, Admiral Harris, Minister Verhagen, Queen's Commissioner for the Province of Limburg, Mayor of Margraten, Superintendent Yasenchak, excellencies, distinguished guests;
I would also like to acknowledge a WWII veteran who is here today, Charles Payne, a member of the U.S. Presidential Delegation and great uncle of President Obama, and the families of the service men and women of those resting here, thank you for being with us on this very special occasion.
Good afternoon. I am deeply honored to be here today. And immensely proud, as an American and as the daughter of Dutch parents.
Standing here on this hallowed ground, on this special day, I am aware that this is only one of many places around the world where our brave men and women have come to rest after fighting and dying for their countries.
From the beginning of our history as a nation, our two countries have stood together for liberty and against oppression.
In 1776, on the Dutch island of St. Eustatius in the Caribbean, Holland openly supported America in its fight for independence, in defiance of England, one of the most powerful forces in Europe.
When an American ship entered the harbor under our new flag, the island's governor, Johan de Graaff, acknowledged her with an eleven shot salute from the fort. That was the very first recorded salute given to the American flag.
From that small Caribbean island in the 18th century to the mountains of Afghanistan today, we have worked side by side to uphold our shared values and sustain our common vision.
Achieving these goals is not always quick or easy.
It requires sustained effort from our leaders, our diplomats
and, all too often, from our militaries. Even today, thousands of our men
and women in uniform still endure harsh and dangerous conditions, and separation
from their families, in pursuit of the common good.
Their continuing service and sacrifice have ensured that we live in freedom and democracy. As Ambassador, I am privileged to work closely with members of both the U.S. and Dutch military. Their commitment, intelligence and passion make me proud and deeply grateful.
This sense of gratitude binds our countries together. It extends across the centuries, to the men and women who gave their lives, to the families who lost them, and to all the people -- Dutch and American -- who sacrificed for the ideals that we still must defend today with all our might.
One of those valiant souls was First Lieutenant Wilma Vinsant from San Benito, Texas. The daughter of a doctor and a nurse, Wilma Vinsant enlisted in 1942 and quickly qualified for the Air Evacuation Nurse Corps.
After training, "Dolly," as she was known, was stationed in England, caring for injured soldiers evacuated from battle zones, including heavy combat regions near Munich and Frankfurt.
On April 14, 1945, Dolly had the day off. Nevertheless, she volunteered to cover for a friend.
Dolly’s commander was reluctant to agree as Dolly had already completed her hazardous-flight quota. Dolly insisted, and he approved her request "to make just one more trip."
That night, Dolly became one of the three women in the Army Nurse Corps killed by direct enemy action.
Dolly rests here in Margraten but continues to inspire other women to serve as bravely as she did. The Dolly Vinsant Flight Nurse of the Year Award is presented annually to a nurse who puts patient care above self, and volunteers at great personal risk to fly missions to help ill or injured military personnel.
Dolly’s story is extraordinary, in its courage and sacrifice, but it is not unique throughout our history.
Those buried here, and all those we honor today, call us to our greater commitment -- as public officials, private citizens, parents, sons and daughters.
The words of President Lincoln are as true today as when he delivered them 147 years ago in the bloodstained fields of Gettysburg:
“It is rather for us [the living] to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…”
We are humbled by their sacrifice. And we are grateful that they were willing to give their lives for our peace and freedom. We do not and will not forget them.
On behalf of the citizens of the USA, I would like to thank the Province and people of Limburg for their support and the care that you have provided to America's sons and daughters buried in Margraten. By preserving the dignity of their final resting place and supporting this commemoration, you have treated them as your own sons and daughters. And for that, we are forever grateful.