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Speech addressed by the President of the Republic on the Day of the Combatant 2010
Batalha Monastery, 10 April 2010

Minister for National Defence,
Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff,
President of the Parliamentary National Defence Committee
Military Chiefs,
President of the Combatant’s League,
Representatives of the Local Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this site of greatest significance for Portuguese combatants, the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, we celebrate today the Day of the Combatant and remember, simultaneously, the memory of the Battle of La Lys occurred exactly 92 years ago.

The ceremony which is being held here is the living testimony of love for the Fatherland and of national cohesion, expressed in a communion of feelings of pride over a past which brings us together and of values which allowed us to raise Portugal as a free, sovereign and independent Nation.

Our presence here, in this site, is also an assertion of the unbending will to continue Portugal. Of clearly expressing that we must clasp our history with respect, heeding the lessons it has given us and valuing our heroes, the much we have given the World and the matrix of humanist values we disseminate.

But today, and above all, we are paying a tribute to combatants, to all those who gave, and are still giving, the very best of themselves, even their own lives, for the Fatherland which we love. We acknowledge with respect their effort, their courage and their sacrifice.

Since the occurrence of conflicts and wars is historically persistent, we must recognize the role of combatants and bear in mind that, along with the glory of the winners and their political and social consequences, war is made up of sacrifice and pain, where many exalt their capabilities and suffer in body and soul the price for the duty they accomplished. Those that are ready to fight at the service of Portugal must deserve from all of us the greatest respect and admiration.

Dear Combatants,

Paradoxically, we commemorate the Day of the Combatant on a date which signals one of the greatest defeats involving Portuguese troops: the Battle of La Lys. Approximately 7,500 men were lost there, among dead, wounded, disappeared and prisoners. More than one third of the Portuguese complement in Flanders. A defeat which, however, turned out to be a significant contribution towards the success of the Allied efforts in thwarting the German offensive.

Since it is true that all battles are not won in a war, it is important that we retain the inferences which allow us to improve and avoid future disasters. In this perspective, some of the circumstances that marked Portugal’s participation in World War I deserve special reflection:

- Firstly, the so-called “miracle of Tancos”, with the preparation of an Army Corps for War in a period of three months. The military apparatus requires complex, prolonged and demanding preparation in terms of the quality of its staff and equipment, which is not compatible with short term miraculous solutions;

- Secondly, the abandonment to which the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps was left in the theatre of War, faced with extreme difficulties in logistics, with no reinforcements and with an excessive protraction of the units in Flanders.

The responsibility of sending soldiers to war implies the provision of the best conditions for success. United efforts are obligatory in political action as well as a solid military rearguard, without which the employment of Armed Forces is not effective, nor is it democratically acceptable.

It is thus important that we remember La Lys as a serious alert so that Portugal always supports cohesively its soldiers when performing the missions which are attributed to them.
La Lys was a sublime and pungent testimony of determination and courage of soldiers who, practically forgotten in the quagmires of the trenches in Flanders, chose to honour Portugal in that which was one of the most dramatic hymns to the capacity for suffering and of love for the Fatherland of the Portuguese Soldier.

The former combatants who fought in Flanders are no longer with us, but remain in our hearts. I address a word of gratitude and nostalgia to the members of their families, for the enormous sacrifice they carried out for Portugal.

As Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, please allow me to specially remember the braves of La Lys. The son of an Infantry Lieutenant, who fought there, recently offered me a book, written by his father, which pictures life in the trenches. Its reading brings to life the feelings of respect and admiration for all those that, with heroic abnegation and simplicity, disposed themselves to face the destructive German attack knowing they were going to die.

In a feeling tribute to his soldiers in the trenches, Lieutenant Pina de Morais writes:
“This is our waiting place – we wait.

(…) It is our duty. I feel a cold sweat running down my body. I know no one will retreat – they will all fight.”

And, in a last salute, he dedicates these words to his men:

(…) I write to you only to bequeath to our dead – our remembrance. To our dead, who were left in the suffering fields of foggy Flanders. They fell (…) taking (…) in their heart a feeling of greatness that no one will ever equal. In their random graves, near to villages, in the wilderness, under the trees (...) – they will always have our remembrance as a prayer, our triumph as affection, our admiration as nostalgia.

(…) All may forget you except for us (…) we have to bow in respect to those who were left in the crusade of this century. Let them rest – the dead heroes.”

I also address my greetings, today, to the former combatants that fought in the several theatres of war to which they were sent on behalf of Portugal. The fighting in India, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau brought to fruition the violent end of a national cycle, but left, in the bloody trails then travelled, a military honour capable of opening the path to the fraternal and fruitful cooperation that exists today.

I also want to greet the soldiers and former soldiers who, more recently, were called to take part of missions in operational theatres far from national territory. The characteristics of the military operations in which they were or still are involved comprise, in many instances, actions of high risk and of great relevance, in defence of peace and of Portugal’s interests. These are our current combatants, spirited and worthy representatives of the national military tradition.

People of Portugal,

It was with men of this breed that Portugal was erected, travelling arduous paths, construed with honour and nobleness, with sacrifice and yield, with courage and bravery. For this reason, combatants are an essential pillar of the moral reserve of the Nation.

We have, however, to be more ambitious. In the difficult times we are living we must muster these capabilities and qualities, assets which can be so important to overcome them. We fight in multiple trenches for the ideals of peace and freedom, for justice and for the less favoured, for sovereignty and for independence, for the progress and well being of the Portuguese, for our individual and collective future.

We have to recognize that each one’s happiness, so exhaustively searched for, is greatly dependent upon the capacity of being self fulfilled as a group, with solidarity.

It is necessary, above all, to create an environment of individual and social responsibility based on values such as honesty, recognition of merit, truth and, especially, honour.

It is necessary to raise Portugal with a sense of inclusion, without forgetting anybody, without leaving anyone behind. Combatants have this spirit well ingrained in their character. It is important that they are able to disseminate it in our society and that we are all available to absorb it.

It is time to become united and to identify what we can and must do for Portugal. The spirit of service and of fighting for the common good, so dear to combatants, must be followed by all the Portuguese.

Each Portuguese must become a combatant for Portugal. This is the only way in which the sacrifice of so many combatants which preceded us and to whom we are today paying tribute will make any sense.

Our thanks to them.

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