PONTE DIRILLO, Sicily (NNS) -- Sailors of Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station (NAVCOMTELSTA), Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, and officials from the Sicilian towns of Niscemi and Gela, gathered July 11 to honor 39 World War II service members from the 82nd Airborne Division who lost their lives near Ponte Dirillo, Sicily, July 10, 1943.
The ceremony took place next to a Sicilian farm house in the shadows of three German gun emplacements known as pillboxes. Outside the house hangs a plaque inscribed with the names of the 39 men.
NAS Sigonella Executive Officer, Capt. Joe Beadles and NAVCOMTELSTA Commanding Officer Cmdr. Kathy M. Creighton laid a wreath near the memorial beneath the three still-visible German pillboxes. Members of NAS Sigonella and the respective mayors of Niscemi and Gela, gave speeches honoring the events that took place.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Bruce G. Clarke, whose father, Lt. Col. Arthur Gorham, the first man listed on the memorial plaque, spoke at the ceremony.
"Today I join you not only as a former warrior, but as the son of a true warrior Lt. Col. Arthur F. Gorham, who gave his life while leading his Airborne Soldiers against a determined foe at the beginning of the effort to rid Italy and Europe of the scourge of Fascism's two evil dictatorships," said Clarke.
"I am reminded of a saying that I had to learn while a cadet at West Point that is attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. 'There is no substitute for victory.' The brave men and women from many countries who struggled with the foe here in Sicily 65 years ago as part of Operation Husky, knew what the sweet taste of victory would be."
Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, was the largest amphibious operation of World War II, in terms of size of the landing zone and the number of divisions put ashore. A battalion of the 505th Combat Parachute Team of the 82nd Airborne Division landed on the very site 65 years ago.
"Still vivid in the Niscemi peoples memory is the glories and tragic sacrifice those young American Soldiers, who fought to uphold the values of civilization, which had been trampled upon by the arrogant presence of the Fascist dictatorship," said Giovanni Dimanti, mayor of Niscemi. "Niscemi elders still clearly remember what happened here and tell many emotional stories about the Americans' landing to the young people of our town."
The paratroopers were forced to drop in gale-force winds and found themselves amidst the three German Army pillboxes in Ponte Dirillo, important due to the fact that it held a main road between Siracusa, Sicily, and Gela. The Americans paratroopers engaged the German and Italian troops in fierce combat before driving them out of the gun emplacements.
"It was July 10 of 65 years ago, the day when the American troops landed in Gela to begin, along with the Italian partisans and other allied troops, a long journey which would have first liberated Italy and then Europe from the Nazi-Fascist occupation," said Rosario Crocetta, mayor of Gela. "Democratic Italy is grateful to the American people for the valuable contribution to the liberation of our country."
During the ceremony, a former member of the 82nd Airborne Division, John Hoffpauir, read the roster of those who gave their lives.
For more news from Naval Air Station Sigonella,