By Ms. Kristin Ellis (Europe)April 6, 2017
MONS, Belgium -- Belgium's official motto "Unity Makes Strength" was on full display March 31, 2017 as senior military and local leadership commemorated the 50th anniversary of SHAPE raising its flag in the country. Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, which moved from France to Belgium in 1967, is responsible for planning and execution of all NATO operations.
"NATO is the most successful political and military alliance in history," said Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Sir James Everard, "For 68 years it has worked successfully to keep the peace in Europe and act to uphold international peace and security.
"And for 50 years the home of SHAPE has been here in Casteau, Mons, a city that has known too well the cruelty and destructive power of war," he added, referencing the role Mons played in the first and second world wars some of which has reached mythical status.
At the 1967 opening ceremony in Casteau, the then-Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, called it a "miracle of achievement." In just over six months, the Belgian people and government had carried out a massive, seven-day-a-week building program effort.
"Since then, we have built more than just facilities. We have built a community. Tens of thousands of men and women and their families have made SHAPE home," wrote current SACEUR Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti in SHAPE Community Life Magazine. "By sharing languages and cultural experience with one another, SHAPE's military and civilian personnel have created an environment unlike any other in Europe."
Today, SHAPE community numbers close to 20,000 with many NATO civilian and military personnel and their families having served and lived here since its opening.
"We consider Shapians full citizens of Mons," said Elio Di Rupo, Mayor of Mons. "SHAPE always has a strong symbolic and economic meaning for us. On behalf of the city of Mons, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you. I wish we will have the opportunity to live and work side-by-side 50 more years."
Everard thanked the community of Mons for the 50 years of strong friendship and collaboration that allowed SHAPE to flourish, noting the "towering" oak tree planted behind the headquarters 50 years ago.
"I think it is significant that next to the oak tree is another symbol of oppression, weakness, and failure, a fragment of the Berlin Wall, a wall that has now fallen," he said. "The oak has not fallen. The oak is a common symbol of strength, endurance and freedom. A freedom that, again, needs to be protected by NATO in the shape of today's many security challenges."
Continuing the SHAPE 50th Anniversary celebration, an exhibition "SHAPE Memories" will be hosted in Mons at the Hôtel de Ville April 2 to May 8 and will then move to the Mons Memorial Museum May 10 until an undecided date. Other events throughout the year will also highlight the "SHAPE 50" theme such as Mons Beer Fest, American Festival in Chièvres, and SHAPE Fest.