Ambassador Michael M Adler's remarks at Flanders Fields American Cemetery – Memorial Day 2022
This marks my first Memorial Day in Belgium as U.S. Ambassador. I am deeply moved to be with you here today as we pay tribute to all those who and fought and died for our freedom.
I recently visited the battlefields near Ypres [EE-PER] and was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of death and destruction that took place in Belgium during WWI. World War One was called the war to end all wars. In the 1920’s it was called the Great War, as no one wanted to think about another conflict of the same magnitude.
Dozens of nations fought on the battlefields of Flanders to restore freedom and democracy. When the United States joined the war in 1917, our allies had been fighting for three years. The American forces brought in much needed relief, not only in terms of new troops but also in equipment and supplies. With the help of the newly arrived American forces, the allies managed to turn the tide in 1918 and end the First World War.
Those heroes buried here me came from all across America. Most of them will have never left their home state, let alone, travel to Europe. They didn’t know the people of Belgium, but they knew that democracy had to restored, even if it meant that they might never return home.
One of the heroes buried here is Thomas J. E. Shannon, from Brooklyn. He was a Sergeant in the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division. Before he left for Europe, he made a promise to Ms. Helen McGrath to marry her as soon as he got back from the war. He was killed in action on September 1, 1918, just a few months before the war ended. His fiancée Helen was heartbroken when she heard the news of his passing and wrote a poem in memory of Tom. The last four lines of the poem are as follows:
I will not live, I will exist,
And memories of the past I’ll never resist.
To live in hopes your face to see
Where we meet again in Eternity.
She turned one of Tom’s uniform buttons into a ring, which she wore her entire life. Shortly after the announcement of Tom’s death, she volunteered to join the Navy and became one of the first female Yeomanettes. She married Tom’s brother Charles in 1920.
We owe all of those buried here and at military cemeteries around the world a tremendous debt – they made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. What these men and women accomplished is the very foundation of the partnership between Belgium and the United States. They restored freedom and democracy. They also remain with us as eternal sentinels to remind us all of the high price of freedom.
I have been so impressed by the people of Belgium as they work tirelessly to keep the memory of the fallen alive. During these troubled times, it is even more important to remember what happened here over 100 years ago.
The American Battle Monuments Commission is one of our finest federal agencies. You are always here, always taking care, always listening to families, always fulfilling your solemn duty. Thank you for everything you do day in, day, rain or shine. You make us all proud.
With respect and humility, may we continue to stand together on the broad shoulders of all whose brave deeds and sacrifices we memorialize today.
Thank you all.