On May 28, 1959, Herbert Hoover gave the keynote at a dinner honoring the King of Belgium. Given that his ties to Belgium dated back to the early days of World War I, Hoover was the natural candidate to give this speech. In October 1914, Hoover was called upon to lead famine relief for war-ravaged Belgium. His success as head of the Commission for Relief of Belgium led Hoover to be awarded honorary Belgian citizenship by King Albert. Hoover was the only one honored in this manner.
Speaking of Belgians in general—and of Belgian Kings in particular, Hoover said: ‘In the last forty-five years I have witnessed their many times of trial and suffering and their times of recovery and triumph. In the face of military might twenty times their strength, they defied attempts to destroy their independence. Never in history has there been such leadership of a people as that of King Albert and King Leopold who, knowing certain defeat, yet fought on.’
In World War I, the vastly outmanned and outgunned Belgian Army fought to hold one last western region, from where the Belgians and French could continue the fight. During the Second World War Belgium was again attacked by overwhelming German forces. The Belgians under the leadership of King Leopold resisted. The world still remembers their heroic final stand to protect the evacuation of the Allied Armies at Dunkirk until they were overwhelmed.
One of Hoover’s last trips to Europe was to Expo 58, the Brussels’ World’s Fair. Invited by young King Baudouin I, Hoover spoke of the special relationship between the United States and Belgium. Hoover saw much to admire in the small European nation—their commitment to maintaining national autonomy, their representative democracy melded with limited monarchy, and their staunch defense of individual liberty. All resonated with Hoover, as he concluded his 1959 remarks: ‘It is not the square miles nor the number of people in a nation that matters. What matters is the moral and intellectual character of the people; their courage and their fidelity to their national ideals.’
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I’ve visited Belgium multiple times, primarily for events surrounding anniversaries of the 1945 Liberation. (And, of course, to partake of beer and mussels!) As a whole, Belgians remain very thankful for what the United States did for them during both World Wars.