American Cemetery in Florence
May 29, 2023
(As prepared for delivery)
Good morning, buongiorno. Division General Pietro Tornabene, Admiral Ishee, Consul General Gupta, Angel and the ABMC team, distinguished guests, veterans, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to be with you today on this important occasion. I am particularly grateful for the current and former members of the military in attendance. We thank you for your service. I also welcome the American, Italian, Sammarinese, and other international guests joining us for Memorial Day. On this day, here at the Florence American Cemetery and at U.S. cemeteries around the world, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
The U.S.-Italy bilateral partnership is built upon our long history of shared bonds. 2023 marks the 204th anniversary of our U.S. diplomatic presence in Florence, the 162nd anniversary of President Lincoln’s honorary citizenship from the Republic of San Marino, the 100th anniversary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the 80th anniversary of Operation Husky. The landings in Sicily, and then on the mainland, ultimately led to the battles in northern Italy, which is where the service members buried here lost their lives.
The young men and women who rest at this cemetery were on average only 20 years old when they perished. They had come to a country they had never seen, to fight against fascism and for the freedom of the people of the United States, Italy, and the world.
It is important to remember that every single one of the 4,392 headstones and the 1,409 names on the Tablets of the Missing represent a young American who had their own families, hopes, and dreams. They were people like Private First Class Noboru Miyoko, who is buried here in Plot E, Row 14, Grave 5. Private Miyoko was born June 3, 1919, on a farm in Glendale, California, the fourth of ten children. He graduated from John Marshall High School in Los Angeles. He was drafted into the Army in 1941. While he was away, his remaining family chose to move to Utah rather than be placed behind barbed wire in the relocation camps that were set up after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Private Miyoko served in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which was composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. Despite discrimination and internment of Japanese Americans at home, this was the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. For their valor, they earned 9,500 Purple Hearts, 5,200 Bronze Stars, 588 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, seven Distinguished Unit Citations, and one Congressional Medal of Honor.
Private Miyoko was killed fighting on April 14, 1945, in Castelpoggio, Italy, during the successful breaching of the Nazi’s Gothic Line. He is one of 13 Japanese-American Nisei soldiers buried here in Florence. He was survived by his wife and young daughter in Utah. His brother, Tech Sgt Mitsuru Miyoko, had been killed on October 15, 1944, near Bruyeres, France, and is buried at a cemetery much like this one in Epinal, France.
Nearly 300,000 Americans died fighting in World War II. Even larger numbers of our Allies, which included Italy after 1943, also perished. Their stories remind us of the price of freedom. They gave their lives so that we could live in freedom today.
To our horror, war again haunts the European continent. The people of Ukraine are defending themselves valiantly against unprovoked aggression by Russia. The aggressors have destroyed Ukrainian cities, kidnapped Ukrainian children, and committed war crimes against the Ukrainian people. Ukraine needs our help, now more than ever.
The United States, our European partners, and many others around the world are committed to supporting the people of Ukraine. As President Biden has noted, “The struggle by the Ukrainian people to defend their country reminds us that freedom is priceless. The U.S. will stand with the Ukrainians for as long as it takes for them to secure their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence.”
We stand together today, just as we stood together to liberate Europe in World War II, because freedom is indeed priceless.
Today, we honor and reflect upon the courage, integrity, and selfless dedication of those who, in the words of President Lincoln, “gave the last full measure of devotion.” We must continue to recount their stories so that our children, and our children’s children, understand the importance of protecting our freedom and way of life. Grazie. Thank you.