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War dead honored in 75th anniversary remembrance of Anzio, Nettuno invasions

Musician 2nd Class Lucas Swanson salutes after playing “Taps.” Service members from the United States and Italy participated in a ceremony honoring the 7,861 service members buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in Nettuno, Italy. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher B. Stoltz/U.S. Navy)

Pvt. Sullivan Africano never made it to shore during an Allied invasion of Italy.

Africano’s ship hit a mine on Jan. 22, 1944 and sank in the rough, stormy sea, killing him and 482 other crew members.

Officials read his and two other American casualties’ stories aloud Tuesday at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery to punctuate the great human cost of freeing Italy from fascism in World War II.

It was part of a 75th anniversary commemoration of the Allied landings at Anzio and Nettuno. The amphibious assaults began a five-month campaign that would result in the liberation of Rome, but would also take the lives of 28,000 Allied troops, including 11,000 Americans.

“As often is the case with war, the cost of freedom was high,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Zirkle, Naval Forces Europe and Africa’s chief of staff. “The bill was paid with the blood and youth of our fighting forces. We must ensure their legacy lives on. We must never forget.”

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The American Battle Monuments Commission hosted the event in Nettuno.

About 7,860 U.S. soldiers are buried at the 77-acre site, and 3,095 who were missing in action are memorialized there. Most died in Sicily, Anzio and Salerno during Allied invasions of Italy.

American cemeteries like this one use a simple white cross or a Star of David as a headstone, regardless of the servicemember’s rank.

Standing amid the headstones, officials not only paid tribute to the war dead and the Allies’ victory, but the solidarity that formed between the U.S. and Italy.

Since WWII, Italy and America have shared common values such as liberty, justice and rule of law, thanks to those who fought and died to drive out fascism, Italian Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli said.

“Commemorate events like today’s anniversary … which keep alive all who died to grant us a better future,” Vecciarelli said. “It means the horror of war, oppression, repression will not come back again.”

A larger ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion will be held at the Normandy American Cemetery in June, said Benjamin Cassidy, an American Battle Monuments commissioner.

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The Italian landings are credited with weakening German forces enough to pave the way for the Normandy invasions, Cassidy said.

Those who died in the Italy campaign are honored with memorials, statues and ships such as the USS Anzio, Zirkle said.

“But most importantly, we honor them with a great debt of gratitude – a debt that can never truly be repaid,” he said.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.