President Obama with King Phillipe and Prime Minister Di Rupo

President Obama, Prime Minister Di Rupo and King Phillipe honour First World War dead

Posted on on 26 March 2014
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President Obama has visited Flanders Field Cemetery in Belgium today (26th March 2014), where he was accompanied by King Phillipe of the Belgians, and the Belgian Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo.

The American President has been in Europe to attend a G7 meeting, as well as a series of bilateral meetings with European and Asian leaders.

The President, the King and the Prime Minister visited Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial at Waregem - the only US First World War cemetery in Belgium.

"Scourge of war and violence"

King Phillipe welcomed Mr. Obama, saying that he was "deeply moved to stand here with you amidst the graves of brave American soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom".

He recalled how his great-grandfather, King Albert I, had rejected Germany's ultimatum, which demanded that Germany be allowed to occupy Belgium.

The King highlighted the "horrors" of trench warfare that came with the conflict, and the subsequent Second World War - "an even more brutal war... [which] saw the heartrending atrocity of the Holocaust".

              The Prime Minister, the King and the President took part in a wreath-laying service

"Our countries have learned the hard way that national sovereignty quickly reaches its limits when confronted with a heavily armed adversary who does not respect that sovereignty".

"Thanks to visionary people, we started on the road of European integration. It was and remains a rocky road, but we are truly convinced that it is the only one. Today, international cooperation, both regional and global, is more than ever necessary to roll back the scourge of war and violence with the tragic wake of human suffering".

"Shared values"

Prime Minster Di Rupio told President Obama that Belgium would "always keep the memory of American soldiers alive", as "the American sons who fell on our soil are our sons".

The Prime Minister re-iterated Belgium's "very strong" ties and shared values of freedom, democracy and progress.

He said that both countries would continue to work together so that no such conflict was repeated.

President Obama said that it was not a common heritage or common language that united Belgian and American soldiers who fought together: "the soldiers who manned the trenches were united by something larger - a willingness to fight, and die, for the freedom that we enjoy as their heirs".

He paid tribute to the alliance between America and Belgium, which has endured throughout the twentieth century to the present.

"Profound sacrifice"

Having been shown the headstones of American soldiers, Mr. Obama said that it was "impossible not to be awed by the profound sacrifice they made so that we might stand here today".

Among those buried at the cemetery is a young Polish immigrant to America, who died a few hours into his first battle for his adopted country.

President Obama continued that the cemetery showed that "no soldier - and no nation - sacrificed alone".

President Obama spoke of the sacrifice made by Belgians and Americans and of the enduring alliance between the two nations

"I'm told that more that there are more than 100 cemeteries tucked into the quiet corners of this beautiful countryside. It's estimated that beneath about 50 square miles there rest hundreds of thousands of men - Belgian and American, French and Canadian, British and Australian, and so many others".

The US President asserted that the lessons of history are not confined to the past: "the lessons of that war still speak to us".

Turning to modern conflicts, Mr. Obama highlighted that Belgium and the United States are still involved in the effort to destroy Syria's chemical weapons - "the same kinds of weapons that were used to such devastating effect on these very fields".

"We thought we had banished their use to history", he said.

The President concluded that one of the ways to provide an ever-lasting tribute to the men buried at Flanders Field Cemetery was to send a "powerful message" that such weapons "have no place in the civilised world".

Source: White House press release

Date of press release publication: 26/03/2014

Images courtesy of the Office of the Prime Minister of Belgium

Posted by: Daniel Barry, Centenary News