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Prepared Remarks of Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James Foggo III, for Memorial Day

May 25, 2015 at 9:56 PM UTC
Summary:

The following prepared remarks of Vice Adm. James Foggo III, commander U.S. 6th Fleet, for the Memorial Day Commemoration at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy,  May 25, 2015.

The following prepared remarks of Vice Adm. James Foggo III, commander U.S. 6th Fleet, for the Memorial Day Commemoration at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy,  May 25, 2015.

150525-N-OX801-134 NETTUNO, Italy (May 25, 2015) Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James G. Foggo III, center, provides remarks during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetary and Memorial in Nettuno, Italy, May 25, 2015. The cemetery is the final resting ground of 7,861 Americans who lost their lives while liberating Italy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released) 150525-N-OX801-134 NETTUNO, Italy (May 25, 2015) Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James G. Foggo III, center, provides remarks during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetary and Memorial in Nettuno, Italy, May 25, 2015. The cemetery is the final resting ground of 7,861 Americans who lost their lives while liberating Italy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released)

 

Ambassador Hackett, Mr. Gioacchino Alfano, Ms. Raffaella Moscarelli, Mayor of Anzio Dr. Luciano Bruschini, and Lieutenant General Errico, Lieutenant General Adriano Vieceli, Vice Admiral Foffi  - Thank you all for honoring the service-members who rest in peace in this place. And special thanks to Superintendent Jay Blount for the particular care you put into maintaining this solemn landmark. I am truly honored to participate in this year’s ceremony – in a place that has commemorated Memorial Day every year since General Mark Clark presided over the first ceremony in 1944. There are nearly 11,000 Americans memorialized in this cemetery, some buried here, others buried at sea or missing in action. Most died during the liberation of Sicily, in the landings in the Salerno area, the heavy fighting northward as well as the landings at Anzio Beach and the expansion of the beachhead. They are buried here, on foreign soil, at the request of their loved ones. In February I visited the museum in Salerno dedicated to the battle where many of these soldiers and sailors died. After the tour our guide took us to a point overlooking the harbor. Today the coast is beautiful and peaceful. It was hard to reconcile the view in front of me with the contemporary accounts from the inhabitants of Salerno in 1943. One witness said there were so many ships and landing craft on the day of the amphibious assault that she could not see the water of the bay. That is a testament to the military might and determination of the Allies. Looking out over this field of headstones, though, I am reminded that each of those mighty ships represents thousands of soldiers and sailors, thousands of individuals and individual decisions, a testament that there are principles for which a people who love freedom are willing to die. One of the crosses in the field before us is that of Captain Henry Waskow. He was the seventh of eight children born to German immigrants who settled in Belton, Texas, and farmed cotton. While attending Temple Junior College he enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, along with his two older brothers. After earning his bachelor's degree he turned down a hometown teaching job in anticipation of being called to active duty. For a moment put yourself in the shoes, or boots, of this farm boy from the heartland of America. In 1941 his division was called up. Training started close to home at Camp Bowie. Then the troops participated in exercises in Louisiana. For most this was probably as far as they had ever been from home and the Louisiana Cajun food was as close as they had ever come to French cuisine. These exercises continued in Florida, North and South Carolina, and Massachusetts. Capt Waskow and his men were a long way from the cotton fields of home. Then 2 April 1943 they departed New York Harbor, the same harbor by which their ancestors may have entered the United States. Many would never return. Two weeks later we find them across the world in Rabat, Morocco. Still training and resupplying, preparing for the approaching cataclysm. First contact with the enemy. The clash came in September 9, 1943 at Red Beach near Paestum as part of Operation Avalanche. The troops were reassured by speculation that the landing would be unopposed due to the recently signed armistice so General Mark Clark elected not to bombard the beach in advance of the landing force. He did not want to increase “collateral damage.” But as the first wave of neared the shore, they were met by loudspeakers proclaiming in accented English "Come on in and give up. We have you covered." The welcome was from the 16th Panzer Division. The landing would not be unopposed… Capt Waskow and the green troops in his command came in the second wave to a beachhead already scattered with the dead and dying. They held it against the enemy's counterattacks and advanced towards Paestum. One of the most striking images of the campaign shows the US infantrymen patrolling past one of the ancient Greek temples. Another photo shows two soldiers, in a moment of respite, throwing a football in front of the ruins. Do you think they paused for a moment to wonder at the events that had brought them from the middle of Texas into the shadow of Greece and Rome? Do you think Capt Waskow wondered at the circumstances that brought him into bloody conflict with an enemy who spoke the same language he had perhaps heard from his immigrant parents? He must have. The fighting continued north past Naples – even when the young officer's unit had dwindled to the size of a platoon, they continued to fight. With four months of combat behind him, on December 12, Henry Waskow was leading his unit up a tree lined ridge at San Pietro. They were attacked; a shell exploded nearby. Shrapnel caught him in the chest and killed him almost instantly. His men described Captain Waskow as a principled and compassionate leader who “… carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.” In a dispatch, war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote, "In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Captain Henry T. Waskow." In his last letter home Waskow wrote: “God alone knows how I worked and slaved to make myself a worthy leader of these magnificent men, and I feel assured that my work has paid dividends – in personal satisfaction, if nothing else… I felt so unworthy, at times, of the great trust my country had put in me, that I simply had to keep plugging to satisfy my own self that I was worthy of that trust. I have not, at the time of writing this, done that, and I suppose I never will." He was indeed worthy, and his leadership and those like him were evident on the as the soldiers took up the torch left by their fallen comrades. On August 15, 1944, nearly a year after their first landing in Salerno, the now seasoned division of which he had been a part participated in an amphibious assault in Operation Dragoon in the French Riviera. I was there just yesterday, in fact. They pushed into France. In December 1944, the troops were met by a counterattack during which the enemy advanced so near that the field artillery resorted to open sights and fired point blank to repulse them. Five days before Christmas, the Allies again attacked along the Rhine River. For bravery during this fierce fight Company "G" and “K” of the 143rd Infantry Regiment would subsequently receive the Presidential Unit Citation. Though Henry had fallen almost one year before, his fighting spirit lived on in the men. From this distance, Captain Waskow's grave cannot be distinguished from the others. The uniformity of the graves serves as a metaphor for the common cause that unites these heroes, yet each hold a story of individual heroism and of loved ones left behind. But it is wrong to say that these, who are buried so far from the home of their youth, are in foreign soil. How could we call "foreign" this soil which they bought with their very lives and which they fought to free from tyranny? They left the family of their birth, and are here with a new family, forged in war. Though this cemetery holds 23 sets of natural brothers, the statue before us, Brothers in Arms represents another kind of sibling. One that may be different in every respect except for the agreement that there are things in this world that are right and good, and those things are worth the ultimate sacrifice. Those buried here never saw a Europe where peace once again reigned, and yet they had such hope in the future that they were willing to give their lives for the generations who would. The soil we stand on today is free, in part, because of the decisions of those buried beneath it. An individual here today, has made a lifelong commitment to honor these heroes. Antonio Taurelli, who is in the front row, has come here every Monday for the last 70 years to lay a single rose on the graves of those with whom he served and who will remain in Italy for perpetuity. Antonio's story is inextricably linked to this place. In January 1944 he volunteered to serve as a Scout in the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne. He selflessly helped save the life of a stranger – a young platoon leader stranded in a mine field - and then became an active member of 2nd platoon, Company F. He served with them as the unit trod the road that leads to Rome. Antonio, thank you for your service and your continued friendship to the United States. Thank you for allowing us to join you in honoring your fallen comrades. You, the veterans with us today, and the men and women interred here have given us a solemn legacy - the courage and determination to take action in the face of tyranny and oppression. Like the brothers linking arms, let us join with those generations, past, present, and future who love liberty and are willing to defend it. Of the fallen General Pershing once said "time will not dim the glory of their deeds." Honor them with your remembrance, but more important with new resolve to defend the freedom they held so dear. Thank God for their example and may he bless us and them on this Memorial Day.