CHIEVRES, Belgium – If you were not interested in history classes as a student, or if you think history is boring and irrelevant, your assignment to the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux community might change your perspective.
From April 2024 through May 2025, the garrison will open a live history book, showing that history is not just a long list of dates and events that have no bearing on our lives.
With a campaign named “Honoring our Legacy,” the garrison will participate actively in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in commemorating the 80th anniversary of battles that led to the end of World War II and pause to reflect on the significance of the 110th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.
Through the 14 month window, the garrison will join its NATO and host nation partners in highlighting significant milestones in their common history.
First, starting in April this year, community members will get a better understanding of NATO, what the Alliance represents today, and the contributions the garrison makes to the Alliance every day.
Formed on Apr. 4, 1949, barely four years after World War II ended, NATO has worked for the freedom and security of all Allies for 75 years. It is no surprise that Belgium, also known as “the crossroads of Europe,” due to its strategic location, was one of the 12 founding nations of the Alliance, and became home to NATO and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in 1967. And it is no surprise either that the Netherlands, also one of the founding nations, became home to the now Joint Force Command (JFC) in Brunssum.
The garrison will celebrate the anniversary in several ways, with stories and educational products, but the most noteworthy celebration will occur at Chièvres Air Base, June 28-29 during the SHAPE International Air Fest. The event will highlight the rich military legacy of the airfield while showcasing current equipment and aircraft from several NATO nations who have already announced their participation to an event one cannot miss.
In addition to modern age military equipment, the event will also celebrate the decades-long multinational military history shared between the U.S. Forces and their host nation community partners. Chièvres Air Base has been associated with the military history of Belgium since 1917, when Germany first landed an aircraft outside the town in the fields they determined to be a prime location for a military air base.
Belgium earned the nickname “Battlefield of Europe” for being a battleground for historic conflicts between larger powers, including the Battle of Waterloo in the 19th century and both world wars in the 20th century.
Two world wars left scars in Europe, but they also left special bonds of friendship between people, and alliances between Nations. The bonds that connect the United States with the Benelux were forged on the battlefield many decades ago. From the trenches of World War I starting in 1914, to the foxholes of World War II in 1944, Belgians and Dutch alike have an everlasting gratitude to their U.S. Allies.
Books relate the historic battles. Movies and television shows try to capture the pain, the starvation and the fear that were ultimately followed by intense relief. Contributing to the garrison history book by telling stories will make an impact no books or movies can equal.
Years have passed. The Benelux countries and their populations have since recovered. Those who experienced the difficult years are fading away but the memories and the gratitude are not. The “Greatest Generation” shared them with the “Next Generation.”
Nowadays, our host nations are expressing their gratitude through commemorative ceremonies that go beyond an expression of gratefulness – they are about performing a “duty of memory” to ensure one remembers the past in order to protect the future of the generations to come.
As they do, they always invite members of the U.S. community in the Benelux, as they see them as the holders of the legacy left by those who came before them. Joining them will take you back in history and give you the best of all history and human relation classes.
You will see our Color Guards proudly carrying their colors along with our host nations in all sorts of weather, during short and long ceremonies. And you will see their pride standing as ambassadors of the U.S. Armed Forces.
You will see the tears in the eyes of the next-of-kin, the “Next Generation,” who were finally able to visit the crash site of a bomber, one of the U.S. military cemeteries or the monuments honoring one of theirs, who died too soon because they believed in a cause bigger than themselves. Their emotion is not just sadness for the loss, it is gratitude for what the local people have done – and are still doing – to adopt a grave, build and maintain a monument, or simply to ensure the next generations don’t forget.
You will hear the school children of Waregem sing the Star-Spangled Banner during the Memorial Day ceremony at Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium. You will notice how many Dutch citizens have adopted graves while visiting the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial at Margraten, The Netherlands.
You will visit Bastogne in December - cold but not as cold as it was 80 years ago - but still filled with the warmth of friendship, with U.S. flags hanging off every window during the Battle of the Bulge commemorations. The “most U.S. town in Europe” becomes a “miniature America” where people want to shake your hand and thank you, only because you are part of the American legacy.
You will see local children and U.S. veterans participate in ceremonies together and you will want to get every story you can from those veterans before they join their fallen comrades.
You will see Belgian and Dutch veterans or former Resistance fighters make their way to you and thank you because, through you, they are honoring every single U.S. Soldier.
You will see Soldiers and Airmen stand shoulder-to-shoulder in many commemorative ceremonies and take the same pride in representing their service.
You will see heads of states and ambassadors attend those events, showing how significant the duty of memory is, and how significant being Allies within NATO is.
You will see American, Canadian and British veterans and patriotic associations being recognized in public together for the sacrifices of the past.
Participating in those events will make you proud of the rich legacy you own and will teach you history in a way you will never forget.
Many community members have a unique story related to one of the world wars, or to the origins of NATO. One of your ancestors might have fought here in World War I, married a Soldier during World War II, one of your uncles might be buried at one of the military cemeteries or your Family might have had a NATO assignment decades ago.
Telling those stories through the “Live your History” campaign will contribute to this new chapter of our shared history. To share your story or contribute to the campaign, contact the public affairs team.