The American Battle Monuments Commission commemorated the 80th anniversary of Operation Shingle at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, today to honor the service and sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces and their Allies during World War II.
By Jack Markell, U.S. Ambassador to Italy
Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial, Nettuno
January 24, 2024
[As Prepared for Delivery]
Under Secretary of Defense Perego di Cremnago, Admiral Ishee, General Masiello, distinguished guests, veterans, ladies and gentlemen, it is an incredible honor for me to be here with you today. I am particularly grateful to see that we are joined today by so many Italian and international guests.
Thank you for commemorating with us the fallen service men and women who rest in this beautiful, tranquil, and serene cemetery.
Though quiet today, it was much different on the 22nd of January 1944, as 36,000 Allied troops came ashore at Nettuno and Anzio to bypass the Gustav defensive line, hoping to speed the liberation of Rome and bring the war in Italy to an end.
The final breakout from the beachhead would not occur until May and would cost the Allies more than 34,000 casualties over four months.
In this sacred place, I struggle to put into words the profound gratitude I feel for what their sacrifice has given to all of us. As we gaze around us at the 7,860 perfectly manicured plots, it is important to not forget that there was an individual life behind each headstone. Each with their own story. Each thousands of miles away from home, their friends, and family. Each a life unfinished, ended too soon. It is for us to remember them, their accomplishments, and…most importantly…their sacrifices.
We remember Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Sylvester Antolak who, on May 24th, 1944, led his squad to break out of Anzio. Leading from the front, he was struck three times by bullets and knocked to the ground, but each time he struggled to his feet to continue his advance.
His shoulder torn and his right arm shattered, he continued with his submachine gun wedged under his uninjured arm.
He singlehandedly cleared an enemy position, killing two and forcing the remaining 10 to surrender. Refusing medical attention and ignoring the bullets flying towards him, he continued his assault toward another enemy position 100 yards away. He died clearing the path for his company.
We remember Army Nurse Lieutenant Ellen Ainsworth, who was awarded the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry in action while serving with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, at Anzio on February 10th, 1944. As bombs fell around her, she calmly directed her soldiers to move 42 injured soldiers to protect them from further harm.
Not thinking of her own safety, she calmly assured her assistants and her patients, and prevented serious panic and injury. Lieutenant Ainsworth died six days later on February 16th from wounds sustained in combat.
We remember the famed Tuskegee Airmen, who fought off German dive-bombers from striking Allied ships near the beachheads.
One of these heroes, U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Alphonso Simmons, rests here. In August 1944, Lieutenant Simmons bailed from his damaged plane near Krupa, Yugoslavia, and joined a Communist resistance group of Yugoslav Partisans, before returning to flying duty with the 100th Fighter Squadron.
On March 3rd, 1945, Simmons died when his plane was shot down over Austria after destroying two parked German planes. Simmons was awarded the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and a Purple Heart for his military service.
We remember each of the thousands of heroes interred here, for on this ground were planted the seeds of peace and prosperity, which we enjoy today. We recognize that the bonds between Italy and the United States stem from the sacrifices made 80 years ago. We acknowledge that liberty and freedom are still being fought for today,
like in Ukraine where the Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom and independence. Italy and the United States will stand together to support these ideals just as these men and women did so long ago.
Few are left who witnessed these events firsthand and therefore the duty rests with us to remember them, to honor them, and to preserve the gift they gave us.
To Italy, and especially to the citizens of Anzio and Nettuno, the United States thanks you for bearing this torch with us. Our histories are forever bound by the actions of those who rest here on your shore.
May our own children continue to live in the peace paid for so dearly by those interred in this hallowed ground.
God bless Italy, the United States, and the thousands of service men and women whose final resting place is here in Italy. Thank you.