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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen Harper lay a wreath during memorial ceremonies in honor of Canadian soldiers who died during the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945

Vincent Jannink/AP

Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to Canada's war dead at a service in the Netherlands this morning.

He was joined by a few dozen surviving veterans of the battles to liberate northwest Europe, which culminated with the surrender of Nazi German forces 70 years ago.

Harper spoke of the great sacrifices made by the now-dwindling war-time generation, saying they understood that some things were worth fighting and dying for – a sentiment that remains today.

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"The heroes who liberated the Netherlands, like the men and women who serve our country today understood that when there arises a great evil, a threat to all the things that define our existence as a free and just people, such enemies must be confronted," he said.

He delivered the speech at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, near Arnhem, which contains the graves of 1,350 Canadian soldiers, many of whom were killed in the late stages of the war as the allies cleared the Netherlands and pushed into Germany.

Harper said each headstone was a stark reminder that doing the right thing often comes at a great cost – but a cost that must be paid.

"When tyranny threatens the free, when cruelty torments the innocent, when desperation overwhelms the human spirit, we choose to respond, we choose the high road forward, not the easy way out. We choose risk not for reward, but for righteousness, we choose to fight for freedom, we choose to defend the innocent, we choose to bring hope to the world."

The nearby village of Holten was liberated by Canadians on April 8, 1945 after fierce house to house fighting. And Harper said the bond was forged between Canada and the Netherlands in those dark days still endures.

"Canadians will never forget the welcome our troops received in this country as the war ended. Canadians will never cease to marvel at how this starving and scarred land so quickly became the prosperous, progressive and generous country we know today, a partner in so many things, including Iraq."

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