ABMC Deputy Secretary at Florence American Cemetery

ABMC Deputy Secretary Raymond Wollman delivers remarks during the 2013 Memorial Day ceremony at Florence American Cemetery in Italy, and explains ABMC's role in honoring our fallen today, more than 90 years after the agency was established by Congress.

Video Transcript

MASTER OF CEREMONIES: It is my distinct pleasure to introduce Mr. Raymond J.  Wollman, the deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission. (Introduction repeated in Italian) Sir, welcome.

ABMC DEPUTY SECRETARY RAYMOND WOLLMAN: Consul General Morrison, General Biancafarina, General Elmo, friends and family of the Niesi veterans, members of the VFW, boy scouts of America and honored guests. Carved in the stone to my right are these words of the ancient Greek Pericles, speaking in praise of the dead. “They faced the foe as they drew near him in the stretch of their own manhood, and when the shock of battle came, they had a moment of time at the climax of their lives were wrapped away from a world filled with their dying eyes not with terror, but with glory. Such were the men who lie here. They received each for his own memory praise that will never die and with it the grandest of all sepulchers, a home in the minds of men."

For nearly 70 years, the small United States government agency, the American Battle Monuments Commission has cared for the 6,000 heroes buried and memorialized at this cemetery. Since 1923 we have cared for 220,000 others buried or memorialized at our 23 other overseas cemeteries around the world.  It’s entirely fitting that the people of the United States do this in recognition of the sacrifice of these young men and women laid on the altar of liberty. The most common question we get at our sites is “Is someone actually buried under each headstone?” Many believe that our headstones are simply representational, each representing someone who fell and then was returned to the United States. It is important to emphasize that a hero rests under each Italian marble headstone you see in front of me. Indeed, at this cemetery the 4,000 headstones you represent only 39 percent of the fallen, just those whose families chose to allow their loved one to rest in Italian soil.

Sixty percent were returned home. But why did families choose to allow them to rest here? Here in this now quiet village, outside the Renaissance wonder of Florence. Quite simply because here, in a now distant time, is where they struggled, fought and died. Here in this valley, among their comrades in arms, the sacrifice was made. So here they rest forever cared for and honored by a grateful nation.  My colleagues and I in the American Battle Monuments Commission take the obligation to these honored here very seriously. We do this by keeping the grass green and the headstones white. This was the charge given to me when I joined the ABMC ten years ago. I soon realized just how challenging maintaining this site to the level you see around you really is. So I’d like to take a moment to recognize John Luncheon, our superintendent, and his superb crew, who’s care, attention to detail and commitment, not just on Memorial Day, but 365 days a year pays tribute to those honored here. But as the distance between their time and ours inevitably widens, we need to do more.

The Commission recognizes that our responsibility goes beyond maintaining beautiful and inspirational commemorative sites.  We have an equally important responsibility to tell the stories of competence, courage and sacrifice that those we honor no longer can tell for themselves.  The Commission is moving forward with interpretive centers, virtual tours, mobile apps, a redesigned website and well-trained guides to bring the story to life today, assuring that the promise of our first chairman General John Pershing that quote “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds” will be redeemed. I ask all of you here today to talk to your friends, families and colleagues about the significance, beauty and impact of this site. I encourage you to be our ambassadors by suggesting that a visit is worth the time and the effort. For those who can’t come in person, please visit our website at www.abmc.gov. The deeds and sacrifice of those honored will live on as long as we speak about them. As long as, in Pericles’ words, we create for them a home in the minds of men. On behalf of the Commission, I want to thank all of you here today for honoring American sons and daughters, who after giving the last full measure rest here in Italian soil. May God bless those we honor her today. Thank you.