This column addresses an impromptu diversion our tour director set up for us to the Florence American Cemetery on the morning of November 6, 2018, during my recent trip to Tuscany with Collette. Almost 4,400 U.S. soldiers killed in World War II are buried there in graves marked by white crosses. Another 1,409 remain forever missing in action, their names and hometowns inscribed on a massive stone wall. Most died during or after the liberation of Rome in June 1944.
This unscheduled stop was especially poignant because, back home, it was Election Day. Our friends and families were exercising their freedom to vote. A gentle rain fell as cemetery official Fiorenzo Iacono addressed us near the memorial wall.
“The liberation of Rome was a turning point in the Allied advance from the south,” he said. “It was these soldiers whom President Eisenhower told, ‘The eyes of the world are upon you.’ Since the Normandy invasion is so well-known, these troops were part of what is often called the forgotten front. They were only boys, averaging 20 to 21 years of age. They loved to fish and play baseball.”
I will never forget how attentive the Italian groundskeepers were to the graves of these young American heroes. One nodded to me as he blew another November’s leaves off the broad stone steps that cascaded downward through this eternal place!
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