Good evening to you all from Belgium. (For your information, it’s now 1 AM in the morning at this side of the Atlantic.)
Please allow me to explain briefly the Duke of Arenberg’s, as well as my own involvement in the book project ‘Out Of The Shadows’.
During World War II, Duke Leopold’s mother and her family survived three Nazi concentration camps and were rescued by American troops. More than sixty years later in San Antonio, TX, the Duke met American colonel Al Metts to express his gratitude for what he had done in May 1945 as a young lieutenant, fighting for others in a European war and liberating the Duke’s mother.
At the end of the war, Duke Leopold’s father was expecting a sure death in a Gestapo prison when the arrival of American troops allowed him to escape just before being shot, hanged or beheaded.
The Duke wouldn’t be living today without American intervention and he doesn’t forget. American service members have his eternal gratitude.
As for myself, as a little boy, I heard my grandparents hundreds of times tell incredible stories about the Second World War. How their region in Belgium was liberated by American and British soldiers. How they put an end to their constant hunger and latent fear. How, after four long years of uncertainty, their lives finally regained hope and perspective. How American service members not only brought with them food and freedom, but also new styles of music, canned beef, fruit drinks and chewing gum. And how the Marshall plan helped Belgium get back on its feet economically.
It was then that I decided I would take up the gun. Out of respect and gratitude for the American service members who came to liberate us. From the awareness that, sometimes, only a gun stands between good and evil. A gun. Not to shoot. Not to kill. Not to destroy. But to stop those who would do evil. To protect the vulnerable, to defend democratic values, to stand up for the freedom we have and we want to protect.
Where do the US get such exceptional men and women, willing to sacrifice everything – even their lives, Duke Leopold and I often ask ourselves? Where do those qualities of the good and noble arise in America to produce such an embodiment of our most precious qualities of sacrifice, loyalty, bravery and patriotism?
We think that it is at the dinner tables, church pews, classrooms and firesides of middle-America that those latent qualities – your qualities – are forged. It is the distillation of those qualities in the cauldron of war which makes you so different from the rest of us, so much the best part of us. We are shamed by your sacrifice, by your fierce loyalties, by your stoic acceptance of unimaginable hardship.
So you serve, and endure, and persevere and suffer – nameless and invisible to the wider world whose safety is your constant gift. Indifferent to public praise and private fortune, you carry the banner of civilization to foreign shores, and there, on some wind-swept, boulder-strewn parapet on the edge of chaos and barbarism, you plant that banner. Standing there, you tum and call to us in words that echo down through the ages – “Sleep soundly,” you say, “Sleep soundly because no one will hurt you tonight.”
We in Belgium know how lucky we are to sleep beneath the blanket of freedom and security America’s brave men and women in the military provide, and we are grateful every day that you have the fortitude and dedication to give so much to make that happen.
Dear sisters-in-arms, you have given up so much for your country and you have made so huge efforts to preserve our Western way of life. That is something that cannot be repaid. What makes you all so great is that you give so much and do not expect anything back.
Thank you for your bravery, strength, hard work, commitment, dedication and willingness to do the hard things that are required of you day in and day out. You’ve often given up everything to fight for your beloved ones, that is something we don’t take lightly. So, thank you for everything that you do.
Thank you, American soldier. Thank you, American veteran.
Colonel (retd.) Belgian Army