News: POWs ceremony strengthens foreign relations
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Michelle Conrad
DEVINS, Mass. - The Fort Devens’ leadership, along with representatives from the German and Italian Consulates in Boston, continued their annual tradition of remembering the 22 soldiers who died while confined in the prisoner of war camp during World War II in a ceremony Oct 19.
Members of the community arrived at the Fort Devens Post Cemetery to see 20 German and two Italian gravesites marked with flowers and their nations’ flags.
“I want you to notice that these soldiers are buried among our U.S. service members, said Lt. Col. Steven Egan, Fort Devens garrison commander. “We treat them, like we treat our own. They are apart of Fort Devens and we do everything we can to honor their memories because it is the right thing to do.”
As part of the ceremony, Egan walked with the Consulate representatives to place two large wreaths in front of the POWs’ graves, and then each addressed the audience, which was largely made up of German and Italian Americans.
Mathias Kruse, the Deputy Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany, said he was both honored and privileged to speak on behalf of his government.
“Let us remember that these men, American, Italian and German, are not just soldiers, but they are beloved members of their families,” said Kruse.
Kruse reminded everyone how the Fort Devens’ prisoner of war camp held more than 5,000 German and Italian detainees during World War II and yet they were all treated with respect and dignity and how nearly all of them were safely returned to their homeland.
“And for that it is also a reason to look back in great gratitude to the American nation,“ said Kruse. “Now we mourn the German and Italian prisoners of war and the American soldiers who rest in peace.”
“Now more than 60 years later, we stand here former enemies and today we are allies; we come together to commemorate the victims and nourish the strong ties between our nations,” said Kruse. “I am deeply grateful for this gesture and the friendship that unites us today.”
The Italian Consul General, Giuseppe Pastorelli, who has served in his position for over three years but had never been to this remembrance ceremony. He spoke to those in attendance and gave a special thanks to Egan. “The way you take care of our soldiers is really remarkable, especially, the way they stay shoulder to shoulder together with the American soldiers, it shows the best kind of our friendship.”
Pastorelli says that it is hard for the people of his generation to understand what happened, and how important it is to participate in this ceremony.
“We will always be here, as a great testimony to show our willingness to stay together and to share this moment,” said Pastorelli, “And I would like to thank the commander of the National Italian Naval Association out of Boston, Mass. for being here today.”
As the ceremony closed, Egan reminded everyone that these soldiers fought for their country and for their families, doing what they believed was right.
“It is our job to honor their memory and their sacrifice. And we will continue to take care of their final resting place, just like we do our own,” said Egan.