Soldiers buried, crosses placed and names engraved. Yet, above everything stands a flag for the country the soldiers fought for. Above everything stands a flag symbolizing the freedom they sought to protect. Above everything stands the flag honoring those who died. Above everything stands the American flag. The symbol of freedom, the symbol of hope, and for these soldiers, the symbol of a future they gave their lives for.
A calm serenity surrounds the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial in Florence, Italy. Over 4,000 white crosses strategically placed on the lawn capture the attention of visitors from around the world. Most of those buried are from the Fifth Army who died after the capture of Rome in 1944 or in the fighting in the Apennines between then and May 2, 1945. These soldiers died fighting for the liberation of Italy. These soldiers died fighting for the future of the Untied States. These soldiers died fighting in an unknown country so people like myself may continue to live in freedom.
Walking into the cemetery tears welled in the corners of my eyes. After a month abroad my appreciation for the Untied States overwhelmed me. The green lawns, the white crosses, the Star-Spangled Banner, the monument in the background, the names of the lost engraved on the wall, bombarded my emotions before I took one step through the gate.
Along with the tears came million thoughts of thankfulness through my head. Never before had I been so thankful for my country. Never before had I been so thankful for the men who gave their lives. Never before had I been so thankful for my roommates who woke me up at the crack of dawn to begin our voyage to the memorial. As far as roommates go, they were definitely the best, and I will always be indebted to them for giving me the opportunity to experience the memorial.
The visitor’s center furthered my love for the United States. Flags proudly displayed everywhere, facts about the liberation of Italy written in English for all to see, and free water standing in the corner of the room all made my appreciation for the United States grow.
My roommates and I grabbed brochures and began our walk up the grassy knoll of strategically placed crosses. The 4,398 headstones are separated by paths of grass designed into eight plots, four on each side, of the central pathway. Reaching the top, we entered the memorial to find a map and further description of the hardships American soldiers went through to liberate Italy. I realized the soldiers were not so different from me. The soldiers were mostly my age. The soldiers were all in a foreign country. And, the soldiers had all been away from home for quite some time.
However, whatever similarities we might have had, these soldiers were also nothing like me. These soldiers left their home, left their loved ones and left their comforts to fight for a cause. These soldiers dealt with lack of food, dealt with lack of water, dealt with death surrounding them at every turn and dealt with the reality that they might not return home.
All of a sudden the “problems” I had in Italy seemed so insignificant. My worries consisted of lack of air conditioning, lack of phone service, lack of ice, and lack of free water. Yet, here were soldiers, my same age, who died in a foreign land, who died with way less than I had, who died thirsty, who died hungry, and who died without the ability to send one last text to their parents saying they loved them. This realization broke my heart.
Already broken, my heart completely shattered when I saw the wall of those who were never found. In the middle of the memorial, engraved in stone, states “Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves.” There are 1,409 names engraved on the wall, 1409 soldiers who were never found, 1,409 soldiers whose parents never had the closure of burying their beloved sons. I stood in awe and sadness at the names engraved. I felt the tears running down my face and did nothing to stop them.
Sitting now, in the comfort of my own home, in the comfort of the United States, and in the comfort of my freedom I cannot help but reflect on all the men who died in foreign lands to protect our country. I cannot stop the tears from forming when I think of all the lost lives. Mostly, I cannot stop the feeling of immense pride I have after visiting the memorial; I am proud of those who fought selflessly, I am proud of those who died bravely and mostly, I am proud to be an American.