Remarks at Dedication Ceremony of American War Memorial

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Pukeahu National War Memorial
Wellington, New Zealand
November 13, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Mr. Ambassador, Mark, thank you very, very much. Thank you also for your tremendous linguistic display a little bit earlier. (Laughter.) I’m delighted to be here with all of you. Minister Brownlee and General Keating, thank you very much for honoring us by being here today, and to all of you parliamentarians, counselors, and distinguished guests all.

It’s a great honor for me to be able to be here today, and I just took part in a wonderful ceremony in which we pledged that we will always remember those who have given their lives for peace and for freedom. So it is special for me to be able to be here today to formally dedicate this U.S. memorial, and it will officially open next year, the 100th anniversary joining New Zealand and our other allies during the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the landing of the U.S. Marines, which you just heard about, in New Zealand during World War II.

And I’m not sure I can call it a marriage, but it’s certainly a clash of cultures originally, and it worked out just plain fine, folks. I have just left the prime minister, and I can’t think of a moment in our history when we’ve been more in sync, more unified, more joined together as partners, in an effort to promote peace and to stand up for moral values, for refugees, for humanitarian assistance, for the rights of people to be free from groups like Daesh, ISIS, and others, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, of which there are too many, but which we together as a coalition have stood up to push back against, and I think appropriately.

The United States national holiday honoring our veterans was just this past Friday, and before I departed for New Zealand I visited Arlington National Cemetery just on the edge of Washington across the Potomac River to remember and reflect on the brave men and women that we’ve lost over the years including a number of men that I was fortunate enough to serve with in Vietnam. Unfortunately, four names were added to that list just yesterday when a NATO air base north of Kabul, Afghanistan was attacked. There are no words, no way, to adequately convey the gratitude that we feel to all those who put their lives on the line for the safety and the well-being of others. The scriptures remind us that there is no act of love greater than giving your life to save the life of another. And it means a great deal to the United States that New Zealand is setting aside this site to commemorate the service and the sacrifices of American troops who died alongside Kiwi brothers and sisters, and to know that they will be honored here in perpetuity.

As Pacific partners over many decades, we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder against tyranny, and we have worked to promote peace and the values that we share from the trenches of Europe to the islands of the Pacific and more recently Korea, the Middle East, Sinai, and Sudan.

Later this week, the USS Sampson will be attending and participating in New Zealand’s – in the New Zealand Navy’s 75th Anniversary International Naval Review, and that I think is a new milestone for the normalization of our security relationship and cooperation.

I want you to know that we in the United States do not take for granted this relationship. We know how fortunate we are to have courageous and committed partners, a country that is engaged way beyond its size in ways that have an impact that is just plain enormous. And despite being a small nation, often far from the immediate danger, New Zealanders have never shied away from defending shared values on a world stage.

Dating back to World War I, this nation has been ready and willing to fight for what is right. And even during the heartbreaking losses at Gallipoli over 100 years ago which touched nearly every single family in this country then, the heroism and the friendship of the Kiwis has long been evident on the battlefield.

During World War II, tens of thousands of American troops came here to New Zealand to train and recover before joining New Zealand’s military in the fierce battles of the Pacific. Then, as now, Americans were warmly welcomed by the people of this great nation. And when I – when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled here to visit our wounded troops, she was struck by the remarkable care and the company that our men and women received. And that world famous Kiwi hospitality which I experienced myself during the time of Vietnam when the frigate I served here made a port call right here in Wellington.

For some, being in this beautiful country was the last good memory that they enjoyed before making the ultimate sacrifice in battles that followed. And while we know we can never repay the debt that we owe them, those words somehow gloss over people, but think about them a little bit. We use the words “ultimate sacrifice” casually sometimes, but the meaning of it and the impact of it is never casual.

So we can make sure that time will not dim the glory of those gifts to all of us. That is what this memorial is all about. The United States and New Zealand are united in our commitment to remember the extraordinary service of men and women that have secured the peace and the prosperity and the freedom that we enjoy today, lest we forget.

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I thank Prime Minister Key, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, and the American Battle Monuments Commission for their work to commemorate our finest men and women, the ones whose shared sacrifices forged such a lasting bond between our nations. And today, we are proud to gather here, and I thank you for gathering here, to recommit ourselves to this bond and to honor the legacy of their work and our work now of expanding peace and respect for human rights and the rule of law and opportunities for all throughout the Pacific and beyond.

I can tell you from a very personal level that the old saying that freedom is not free should have real meaning to people. It’s an extraordinary thing for people to put on the uniform of their country, leave family and friends, leave safety and comfort, and go off and sleep in the mud or stand up somewhere knowing that a bullet may suddenly end their life. And in today’s world, too many people, regrettably, are able to simply pass by without the full measure of understanding of why they have that freedom and that right.

It is particularly poignant when we think about an entity like Daesh, which in 2016, 2015, after all the lessons of World War II, after the Holocaust, after all of our endeavors to set up a structured rule of law by which we all operate, kills people because of who they are, beheads people in public in an effort to intimidate, to quash any notion of individuality, that kills Yezidis because they are Yezidis, kills Jews because they are Jews, kills Christians because they are Christians, kills Shia because they are Shia. That is the absolute antithesis of everything that the folks we honor here and that are honored up there on the hill stood for. It is the antithesis of everything that we live and breathe on a daily basis as citizens of our two countries and of so many other countries in the world.

But it is clear that if we don’t stand up to it, we will be subjugated. It is clear that if we don’t stand up to it, all of those sacrifices made before will have been in vain, and nobody here will allow that to (inaudible). So this memorial will join the other memorials here in this beautiful park in order to stand forever as a statement about our willingness to continue to fight for the rule of law and for opportunities for all of us for freedom throughout the Pacific and beyond.

Thank you for joining us today. (Applause.)