Memorial Day

On the west side of the Greve river, approximately 7.5 miles south of Florence, Italy, set against a backdrop of hills dense with London Plane trees, headstones belonging to 4,402 American Military Dead stand on 70 acres of foreign soil. Pine, cypress, willow, oak and cedar trees enclose the section along with oleander, crepe myrtle and laurel-cherry shrubs.
A bridge set between the cemetery office and the visitor’s center at the entrance to the cemetery leads us to row after row of crosses and stars of David. The cemetery is hushed except for the occasional rustle of a leaf or a bird’s fragment of song. We wander among the headstones that bear the names and dates of birth of the servicemen and women who were lost to friends, loved ones and our nation. Here and there, we see a pebble placed on a stone; a way to say “We are here. We came to see you. We will never forget you.”
Americans, traveling through the area, stop at the cemetery, on the west side of the Via Cassia, a major highway that links Florence with Rome and Sienna, to pay their respects to the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. The majority died in the fighting that occurred after the liberation of Rome in June 1944 and during the fierce battles in the Apennines right before the end of the war.
The cemetery is one of 14 permanent memorials built by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The site (liberated on August 3, 1944 by the South African 6th Armored Division) and the stone used to construct the chapel and headstones was supplied by Italy.
On the highest of three terraces located in back of the burial site are two open sections partially enclosed by walls; to the east is the American flag. Tablets of the Missing, constructed of Travertine stone, connect the two sections. Visitors barely breathe as they read the Baveno granite panels; on the tablets are inscribed the names of 1,409 Americans (United States Army and Air Forces and the United States Navy) who died in our nation’s service and rest in nameless graves. They came from every state in our union but Alaska and Hawaii.
Men study the north section’s west wall where two marble operations maps tell the story of the American Forces in the area. Inscriptions in English and Italian provide an explanation for the maps and the military operations. A forecourt at the south end of the tablets leads to a marble and mosaic chapel; a place to meditate and pray for the peace represented in a sculpture that rests on a pylon.
The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm from April 16 to September 30 and from 8:00am to 5:00pm from October 1 to April 15. Staff members in the visitors’ building will accompany family members to the graves and memorial sites.

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