On May 18th,
we hired a car to take us from Rome to Nettuno at Anzio where we headed for the
Sicily-Rome American Cemetery.
From the moment we entered the gates we were overwhelmed with the
silence; the majesty; the honor and glory that were in that place. We truly felt that we were on hallowed
While waiting at
the office for our appointment, we were gratified to see that the last three U. S.
presidents have visited this cemetery
for Memorial Day services at least once.
We were met by the Director of the Cemetery, who introduced us to a
gentleman named Silvano Casaldi, who is the Curator of a World War II Museum in
Nettuno. Silvano had volunteered to be
our guide that afternoon. We learned
that he often acts as a volunteer at the cemetery. He provided us with a lot of history about
the cemetery and the area.
There are 7,860
graves with white crosses and 3,095 names on the Tablets of the Missing. Hearing the numbers while surveying the
panorama of markers is almost too much to comprehend. I thought of the quiet and the silence of the
day with the birds chirping sweetly, and then tried to imagine the noise and
utter chaos of those times in which these brave souls gave their all for the
sake of freedom for people they did not even know, as well as to protect our
own country from possible harm.
It was time to
do what we primarily came here to do: To
go into the Memorial Building and find the name of my late brother-in-law, 2nd
Lt. Theodore F. Balk, Jr., 443rd BSq, 320th BGp, from
Augusta, Georgia, on the Tablets of the Missing and to pay our respects.
I could not
believe I was really here – thousands of miles from home, and that I was
actually going to see with my own eyes a name among thousands that would mean
so much to our family.
We went inside
and I was immediately awed by the names.
They were floor to ceiling all the way around the walls of the chapel,
in symmetrical columns like seeing thousands of soldiers in formation from ten
thousand feet in the air. This was their
final formation, I thought.
In the first
column, I found Theodore’s name. Balk. That came first. I had carried that name myself for 40 years
before I re-married, and so it jumped out at me. It made me feel connected, because this
family became my family also. This lost brother, son, and husband would forever
be 23 years old in their memory. I could
only stand quietly and pray that his soul was at peace and that his parents and
his brother, Tom, had found him
and all the other American military cemeteries and monuments all over the world
are one of the best uses of our tax dollars I have seen. It is fitting and appropriate that we honor
these fallen ones in this way. It is the
least we can do. Every American who goes
anywhere in the vicinity of one of these sites should certainly take the opportunity
to go and see it for themselves and to pay their respects.
Looking at all those markers and names, I had the thought that for every
story like Theodore’s, there are thousands more just like it. I hope many more of these stories may be told
so we will never, ever forget. (Continued)