World War II prisoners of war from Germany and Italy were remembered at a wreath-laying ceremony at Fort Riley Cemetery Thursday.
Representatives from the German and Italian armed forces travel to the Kansas post every Fall to honor POWs who were held and/or died at Fort Riley. The storied base was one of 600 locations in the U.S. to hold POWs during World War II, holding 4,500 German, Italian and Japanese prisoners. Sixty-two German and eleven Italian soldiers are buried at Fort Riley.
German Army Col. Carsten Döding and Italian Army Maj. Stefano Catania, liaisons posted at Fort Leavenworth, spoke at the ceremony. Döding said that that although the foreign soldiers buried at Fort Riley died thousands of miles from home, they are not forgotten.
“Today we know that my German countrymen had fought for unacceptable political goals,” said Döding. “This peaceful site, however, where so many have found their last resting place gives the dead back their dignity and the living a place to mourn.
He said that it is their obligation to honor their countrymen buried at the fort — regardless of their ideology — especially when the fallen’s families are unable to do so.
“The two world wars of the last century engulfed the lives of millions of soldiers and citizens from great empires to small nations,” Döding said. “But let us never forget that every victim has a personal story, every victim is sorely missed.”
Catania said that whether they were captured in Europe or Africa, Italian soldiers were treated with “dignity and respect” in accordance with military values that have helped bring former foes together.
“Through the memory of the soldiers buried here, it becomes apparent how past and present are woven in the same fabric as much of our values are,” said Catania.
Döding echoed that similar sentiments were felt by German POWs, and that despite rumors of mistreatment many German soldiers were happy to be captured.
“Many [POWs] formed significant, often decades-long friendships with the former enemy,” said Döding. “This has fundamentally influenced our German values as well as the strong ties that bind the United States and Germany today.”
Catania also added that the remembrance extends beyond those who served in the armed forces and honors more than just their nations’ fallen.
“We pay respect not only to the Italian and German soldiers buried here, but also to all soldiers and civilians who die for their people and their nations.”
Döding continued, saying that reconciliation with those who were once their enemies was the great achievement of the post-war generation.
“The suffering of millions of families on both sides became a common bond,” he said. “Where enmity and mistrust had long shaped misconceptions, new trust could grow.”
Catania closed the remarks by reciting the soldier’s prayer in Italian before thanking the attendees and Fort Riley leadership.
“May god bless the men and women who died too young so that their countries may survive, may god bless our families and us, may god bless our nations,” said Catania.
The ceremony finished up with a three round volley and the playing of German and Italian taps.
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