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Cemetery Visit Reminds Gates of Cost of Freedom

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

MARGRATEN, Netherlands, June 10, 2009 – The 8,301 Americans buried at this beautifully manicured cemetery reminded Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today of the cost Americans pay for freedom.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tours the World War II Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial where 8,301 U.S. servicemembers are buried in Margraten, Netherlands. Along the sides are Tablets of the Missing on which are recorded 1,722 names, June 10, 2009. DOD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates visited this cemetery during a break in meetings about Afghanistan’s Regional Command South. The American dead are from actions in the Netherlands and Germany during World War II.

“It’s a solemn reminder of the sacrifices that young men and women have made over the generations to try and preserve or recapture freedom,” Gates said. “This is the third of these cemeteries I’ve visited – Manila last week and Normandy two years ago. As I sign the papers to send American soldiers to fight again for somebody else’s freedom, these cemeteries remind me of the long line of patriots who have made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of freedom.”

The Margaten cemetery illustrates the long shared history of the United States and the Netherlands, and is a “fitting tribute to the Americans who lost their lives on foreign shores fighting tyranny and oppression,” Gates said. “They are also humbling reminders of the great sacrifices the United States and our allies have made, and the terrible human cost we’ve paid together in the defense of the ideals given birth on this continent.”

Gates spoke about last week’s ceremonies in honor of the 65th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. That war, he said, was fought with clarity of purpose. “Today, we’re engaged in another war, waged with a similar clarity of purpose,” he said.

The war in Afghanistan requires sacrifice again from the United States and its allies “to help a proud people to rebuild their country after decades of war,” the secretary said.

“It is a mission whose importance cannot and should not be underestimated,” he added, “for it is critical to the security of both Europe and the United States.”

Gates said he is in Europe to discuss what must be done in Afghanistan. “I am confident that we will summon the will and the courage to do whatever it takes in Afghanistan, just as we have in the past on battlefields that necessitated memorials like this one,” he said.

Michael Yasenchak, the cemetery’s superintendent, showed Gates three sets of brothers – from California, Pennsylvania and New York – buried side by side. He also showed Gates the graves of Americans awarded the Medal of Honor and graves bearing the inscription “Known but to God.”

Gates also viewed the grave of Army 2nd Lt. Willis A. Utecht, an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper whose body lay undiscovered in a field near Nijmegen before a farmer discovered it in 1993. The military identified the remains and buried the lieutenant almost 50 years to the day after his ill-fated Sept. 17, 1944, jump. The 82nd Airborne Division’s commander, choir and band honored the lieutenant, and so did thousands of Dutch, who paid their respects to one of their liberators.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels with Gates



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