When I was in Italy, I had the opportunity to visit the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and pay my respects to the soldiers who sacrificed so much for freedom and, specifically, to free the Italian people from their fascist regime at the time. It was World War II and the Allied forces were sent through Sicily to protect Mediterranean access to the ports, break through the Gustav line, and free the city of Rome. I have a personal connection to these events. My cousin’s grandfather was one of approximately 3,000 Italian civilians killed when Allied troops bombed Rome. World War II always felt distant, but my soul wept for my cousin as he recounted the events of that day and I watched as he attempted to reconcile his feelings of personal loss as he learned that he had an American cousin. The war also became more personal to me.
The cost of war is incalculable. As I looked upon the alignment of grave stones, I saw evidence of the American sacrifice. The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial was dedicated on July 30, 1956. There are 7,861 burials arranged in arcs on 77 acres of land. Four hundred ninety soldiers are tombed in 488 graves whose identity remains unknown. Latin crosses number 7,738 with 122 Stars of David standing intermittently by their sides. Two Medal of Honor recipients are buried in this cemetery along with 26 sets of brothers.
“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries . Here was our only conquest: all we asked of Italy was enough of her soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”
Lt. General Mark W. Clark
The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery is located in the town of Nettuno about 38 miles south of Rome. A chapel was erected with the names of 3,095 soldiers who were still missing in action, lost or buried at sea at the time the memorial was built. If the soldier has been found, it is noted by a marker. It also has a map room. The Visitors Center is informative. Laden with artifacts, films, and interactive displays, it seeks to educate those in attendance about the role the Allied troops fulfilled in Italy during World War II.
This is not the only American cemetery on foreign lands that commemorates the service and sacrifice of members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The most noted is the Normandy American Cemetery in France. For more information about these cemeteries and where they are located, visit the American Battle Monuments Commission website at www.abmc.gov.
“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”
—General of the Armies John J. Pershing
World War II is only one of many wars that provides information about the times in which our ancestors lived. The records left behind can provide much context to their day-to-day lives. One essential question when researching any individual is, “Did this person serve in a war or is this person related to a person who served in a war?” If so, there is history for you to discover. One of the first places to look to learn if an ancestor served in the military is the 1910 and 1930 United States Federal Census. These censuses do not gather information about all American wars, but it’s a good place to start.
The 1910 U.S. Federal Census can be accessed for free through familysearch.org. It is also found on ancestry.com, findmypast.com and fold3.com. The enumerator was to asked if the person was a “survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy.” Abbreviated responses are recorded in column 30: “UA” = Union Army, “UN” = Union Navy, “CA” Confederate Army, and “CN” Confederate Navy.
The 1930 U.S. Federal Census can be accessed for free through familysearch.org. It is also found on ancestry.com and fold3.com. A Civil War veteran will have the abbreviation “CW” in column 31. Other veterans will have the following abbreviations: “Sp” = Spanish-American War, “Phil” = Philippine Insurrection, “Box” = Boxer Rebellion, “Mex” = Mexican Expedition, and “WW” = World War I.
All U.S. Federal Censuses can be accessed at the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). It is the greatest repository for information about your ancestor’s United States military service. Original records can be viewed onsite. Microfilmed records may be found in many branches located throughout the United States. Some microfilmed records can be found at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and other repositories. Check the NARA website for more information.
World War I and World War II draft registration cards can be found for free on familysearch.org. They are also available on ancestry.com and fold3.com. Findmypast.com only has the United States World War I draft registration cards. The cards indicate registration, but not necessarily service. Be aware that an ancestor may have filled out more than one card for World War I because there was more than one draft registration. I have found additional and helpful information on a second card.
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance. Let us never forget the sacrifice of those who fought that we might be free. This particular sculpture stands at the Memorial Building of the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. It is titled, Brothers-in-Arms and was created by Paul Manship. It represents two branches of our military forces—Army and Navy. It is moving to witness this work and consider the relationships among soldiers as they fought in the trenches for a common cause. It was not a time of reflection for them. It was a time for action.
May we remember why they fought and that we are the recipients of their sacrifice.
May we pass the torch responsibly to the next generation!
If you need assistance in discovering your ancestors who served in the military, contact me. I’d be happy to help.
© 2019 Lynn Broderick, a.k.a., the Single Leaf. All Rights Reserved.