Miniature German and Italian flags fluttered by the grave sites of 33 World War II German prisoners of war and two Italian POWs at the Post Cemetery.
Despite the cold wind gusts, representatives from both the German Navy Military Attaché and Italian Military Attaché in Washington, D.C., stood at attention as they paid tribute to the POWs during the annual German and Italian Wreath-Laying Ceremony on Sunday.
Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard was joined by Capt. Juergen Looft of the German Attaché and Lt. Col. Luigi Bramati, deputy of the Italian Attaché, to speak at the wreath-laying.
At the start of the 30-minute ceremony, the Navy Information Operations Command Color Guard posted the colors. Chaplain (Capt.) Brian Satterlee gave the invocation and benediction.
Acting as emcee, Public Affairs Director Chad Jones introduced each speaker. Rickard spoke first.
“Thank you for attending our ceremony today to commemorate the 35 brothers in arms from Germany and Italy who are laid to rest here at Fort Meade, far from their homelands,” Rickard said.
These German and Italian POWs were housed at the Fort Meade detention camp during the war and subsequently died during captivity.
“I’m grateful to join our distinguished allied guests … as we unite today to respect fallen comrades, to honor the common bond that all professional military share, and to affirm the strength of our alliance today,” Rickard said.
Rickard also spoke of the bond that has been forged between the United States, Germany and Italy.
“Our three nations have built strong alliances and stand together today, united in memory, just as we stand united in commitment against threats from state and non-state actors,” he said. “As we honor the fallen here today, let us remain united in our alliance to preserve the common bond of professional military that transcend the ephemeral winds of politics.”
In his remarks, Looft thanked Rickard for hosting the ceremony, Bramati for jointly commemorating the event, and the Fort Meade German Women’s Club for preparing “the graves for today in such a nice and dignified manner.”
In addition to the flags, the German Women’s Club decorated the graves with bouquets of red and yellow flowers.
Germany recently marked Volkstrauertag, the country’s National Day of Mourning. The public holiday commemorates the victims of the two world wars and those who died in other armed conflicts.
“The Day of National Mourning in November admonishes us not to forget the victims of war and tyranny,” Looft said. “We need to remember who they were and what they died for. Their courage should perhaps strengthen our resolve and generosity in helping those now fleeing the horrors of war [who] yearn for the freedoms we enjoy.”
Looft reminded those in attendance that there are ongoing conflicts taking place around the world and it is important to pay tribute to those who risk their lives to preserve democracy.
“By remembering the dead, we are making a significant contribution to peace and democracy in the present,” he said. “Moments of remembrance allow us to learn from our mistakes and better ourselves.
“Most importantly, it enables us to inspire younger generations to understand the freedom they have been given and to dedicate themselves to preserving it and passing it on to future generations.”
Bramati followed with a detailed description of the history of Italian POWs during World War II.
He painted a picture of ill-equipped Italian service members, armed with only their courage and dedication to Italy.
Of the service members who fought under the Italian flag, 600,000 were captured and detained by Allied forces — 51,000 of whom were brought to the United States “as prisoners of war, as enemies,” Bramati said.
He later reiterated the strength of the alliance between Italy, German and the United States.
“This ceremony helps to remind us that since the end of the second world war, our American, German and Italian soldiers have been training together, serving together side by side in many theaters of operations, committed to peace and stability,” Bramati said.
“Today, we commemorate the fallen Soldiers, and our thoughts and prayers are for all the men and women who have served their countries and for those that are still serving.”
After the remarks, Rickard, Looft, Bramati and Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodwell L. Forbes saluted the German and Italian wreathes.
The ceremony was followed by brunch at Club Meade. Rickard led a toast to the continued partnership between the U.S., Germany and Italy.
This was German Army Master Sgt. Christian Hassdenteufel’s first time attending the ceremony and his fifth month in the United States working at the German Armed Forces Command in Reston, Va.
“I think it was a wonderful ceremony,” he said. “It is important to attend these kinds of events.”
Growing up in Germany, Hassdenteufel observed Volkstrauertag by attending church services or visiting a cemetery.
“For me, [honoring fallen Soldiers] is kind of a routine every year,” he said.
Isolde Fletcher, president of the German Women’s Club for the past three years, has participated in preparing the flower bouquets during the seven years she’s lived at Fort Meade.
“It is our honor to provide flowers and the flags,” Fletcher said. “As long as we can, we will.”