Fort Meade Garrison Commander Col. Michael A. Sapp provides opening remarks during the German Italian wreath-laying ceremony at the post cemetery, November 20, 2022. The first ceremony was held in 2011 in memory of the two Italian and 33 German World War II prisoners of war buried at the post cemetery. (U.S. Army Photo by Jasmyne Ferber, Fort Meade Public Affairs)

Fort Meade honors German, Italian POWs during wreath ceremony

By Jasmyne Ferber, Fort Meade Public Affairs

FORT MEADE, Md. (November 20, 2022) – Fort George G. Meade held a joint wreath-laying ceremony last Sunday in memory of the two Italian and 33 German World War II prisoners of war buried at the post cemetery.

Fort Meade Garrison Commander Col. Michael A. Sapp and Command Sgt. Maj. Andre Welch welcomed Rear Adm. Axel Ristau, German Military Attaché, Brig. Gen. Stefano Messina, Italian Military Attaché; and guests to pay tribute to those who did not return home.

“This event began only 11 years ago, and I am extremely honored that you all have enabled us to continue this tradition,” Sapp said during his opening remarks. “Gentlemen, your participation adds a distinguished level of emphasis and distinction in honoring these men resting around us who have earned this.”

Sapp noted there are those who may not understand why U.S. military bases and leaders take time to honor the nation’s one-time enemies.

“Such critics do not understand the profession of arms,” he said. “They do not understand how important it is to remember our fallen as we acknowledge their sacrifice and reflect on the loved ones whom they will never be united.”

In September 1943, the first shipment of 1,632 Italian and 58 German prisoners arrived at Fort Meade. Some of those prisoners died during their captivity and were buried at the installation.  

Ristau commemorated the fallen with reference to Volkstrauertag – or Remembrance Day in Germany – a day, Ristau said, “cannot be translated without putting it into a proper context.”

“It is not a Veterans Day, but it goes deeper. It goes right into the very consequences of war,” he said. “My grandfather’s generation in Germany has been responsible for human suffering. That, in its magnitude, exceeds anything the world has witnessed before.”

With an estimated nearly 60 million people killed, Ristau pressed upon the extent of the loss experienced during World War II.

“These numbers are too abstract to tell us anything about the graves we see here behind us or in front of us,” Ristau said. “The Remembrance Day of Volkstrauertag is more than 60 million killed. Everybody who died left behind mothers, left behind fathers, or wives or children, friends and neighbors. For everybody killed, there was a lifeline cracked. Babies not born. Stories not told. And love not found.”

Both Ristau and Messina drew parallels of World War II to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war during their remarks.

“We Germans have a lot in common with this brutally attacked country Ukraine and its people,” Ristau said. “A violent past, but also the foundations of a common culture and the will to democratic self-determination for a peaceful future.”

Messina, who participated in the ceremony for a third and final time, thanked the Garrison for hosting the event, stating it is a strong sign of the nations’ sincere friendship.

“Today, we can only say thanks, danke, grazie, to these German and Italian Soldiers who rest here in peace and to the thousands of American Soldiers who offered their lives to give generations of Europeans a future of freedom, democracy and prosperity,” Messina said.

In honor of the fallen, Staff Sgt. Robert Parler of the United States Army Field Band, Matthew Canales of Howard High School and Larry Neff of Bugles Across America played renditions of TAPS, Der gute Kamerad and Il Silenzio d’Ordinanza.

Referencing his own service in Germany and with NATO and the United Nations, Sapp highlighted the unity between the three nations that exists today, despite past conflict.

“I have only known you and your compatriots as allies and more precisely as friends,” Sapp said. “It brings me tremendous pride and joy that today we stand together. Proof that peace and cooperation can group from conflict.”

Jasmyne Ferber, Fort Meade Public Affairs