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Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the Liberation of Italy in Nettuno

June 03, 1994

Thank you, President Scalfaro, Prime Minister Berlusconi, Secretary Brown, Chaplain Kendall; Mr. Shirley, thank you for that kind introduction and for your moving rendering of the history; to the citizens of Italy who are here, and especially those of Nettuno who have helped to make this day possible and every day special at this remarkable place; to the leaders of our Congress, our administration, my fellow Americans, and especially to the veterans and to the active military personnel who have worked so hard to make this day a success.

We stand today in fields forever scarred by sacrifice. Today it is hard to imagine that this is now a place of peace. It is lush with the pines and the cypresses. But 50 years ago when freedom was in peril, this field ran with the blood of those who fought to save the world.

Row upon row of white marble stretches now before us, 7,862 markers in all. The names of over 3,000 other Americans still missing are inscribed in the chapel here. All of them died young. But half a century later their legacy still lives. They fought as liberators in Sicily and Salerno, along the Gustav line and here at Anzio, Nettuno.

One Italian, moved forever by Salerno, said, "We were tired, hungry, and terrified. Then overnight, coming out of the mist as in a dream, the Americans arrived, bringing us hope and strength. The price was enormous. At Anzio, Nettuno, no one and no place was safe. German guns and air power made every last person here a combatant, every cook and baker, every driver and mechanic, every doctor, nurse, and chaplain. But amid the horror of the guns something rare was born, a driving spirit of common cause."

The late General Ernest Harmon, Commander of the 1st Armored Division, put it well when he said, "All of us were in the same boat. We were there to stay or die. I have never seen anything like it in the two world wars of my experience, a confidence in unity, an unselfish willingness to help one another." That spirit is known as brotherhood, and that is why the statue behind us is called "Brothers in Arms."

Our duty is to preserve the memory of that spirit, memories like that of Private Robert Mulreany. On February 7, 1944, his brother, Private Eugene Mulreany, lay wounded in the field hospital. Robert was visiting when they heard the sound of planes overhead. As the bombs fell, Robert threw his body on top of his wounded brother. He saved his brother's life, even as he gave his own.

Italy's devastation then seemed total. I have been told a story by my cousin about my own father, who served here in Italy. Back home, his niece had heard about the beautiful Italian countryside and wrote him asking for a single leaf from one of the glorious trees here to take to school. My father had only sad news to send back: There were no leaves; every one had been stripped by the fury of the battle.

The battle for Italy, as Mr. Shirley so eloquently said, hastened Hitler's demise. It cemented the alliance, supported by the British, the French, the Canadians, free Poles, and New Zealanders. The battle here pulled German troops away from other fronts. It yielded vital lessons that helped to win the day at Normandy. It inspired the Italian Resistance, as the President has said. Along the way, the Italians took up their rightful place as loyal allies, and they have remained there ever since, through these 50 years.

The spirit of common cause did not die here. A generation of Americans went back home to carry on their work. There was a platoon leader from Kansas savagely wounded in combat; an anti-aircraft commander from South Carolina who fought in Corsica; a Hawaiian lieutenant who lost his arm while in the war's only American fighting force of Japanese ancestry; a coastguardsman from Rhode Island who served in Sicily. Today we know them as Robert Dole, Ernest Hollings, Daniel Inouye, Claiborne Pell, each a young American who came of age here, each an American patriot who went home to build up our Nation. We honor what they have given to America in the United States Senate as we honor what they did for us here. Thank you, gentlemen.

Fifty years later, we can see the difference their generation has made. America is strong; freedom is on the march. Here in Italy, the glorious trees, like the country, have been restored to life.

Too many Americans do not know what that generation did. Somewhere in America a child rummaging in an attic may find a war medal or a black and white photo of a younger but familiar face in uniform. Yet we cannot leave memory to chance. We must recall Elie Wiesel's commandment to fight forgetfulness. And we must apply it to the valor as much as to the horror, for to honor we must remember.

And then we must go forward, for our job is not only to praise their deeds but to pursue their dreams, not only to recall their sacrifices for freedom but to renew freedom's promise once again. We are the sons and daughters of the world they saved. Now our moment for common cause has come. It is up to us to ensure a world of peace and prosperity for yet another generation.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:48 a.m. in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. In his remarks, he referred to President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro of Italy; Rev. Marcus Kendall and John Shirley, veterans of the campaign to liberate Italy; and Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and humanitarian. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the Liberation of Italy in Nettuno Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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