Dove Vai? – American World War II Cemetery Near Florence

When a visitor tires of the noisy teeming crowds amid the gray stones of Florence, he or she should board the SITA bus or travel by car to the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, located south on the roads to Siena and Greve. In the green silence, this historic location is a place to learn about the importance of the American sacrifice in World War II and the reason most Italians still hold the U.S. in high esteem, as well as it is a spot to contemplate the beauty of the Tuscan countryside while thinking of its turbulent past.

American Cemetery in the Tuscan Hills
American Cemetery in the Tuscan Hills

Don’t merely stop at the base of the hillside monument in the fragrant rose gardens.  Climb or drive to the very summit to the high stele (pillar) topped by the carving of a woman clutching olive branches while flying on the back of an eagle – a symbol of peace that seems ready to soar over the gravesites. There is a Memorial Center with a multi-denominational chapel with a star-filled ceiling to one side and a map created in stone (pietra dura), showing the progress of the allied troops on the other. In between is the wall of the Missing – those brave pilots and seamen whose final resting place was never found.

A Short History of the Allied Italian Campaign

Following the capture of Rome on 4 June 1944, the Allies pursued the enemy northward toward the Po River and the Alps. On July 23, they entered Pisa. Florence fell to the U.S. Fifth Army on 4 August 1944. But some of the worst fighting was left to come.  The Gothic Line, north of Florence, was the final German defensive effort in Italy.

Map of Allied Troop Movements in Northern Italy
Map of Allied Troop Movements in Northern Italy

In October 1944, a final bid to capture Bologna brought the U.S. Fifth Army to within nine miles of that city. Forced by harsh weather conditions and shortages of personnel and supplies, the advance stalled for the winter, but fighting continued on in the mountains north of Lucca. The segregated African-American troops, known as the Buffalo soldiers, fought valiantly over Christmas 1944 to protect the small hill towns of Sommocolonia and Barga. A fictionalized version of these battles was the subject of the James McBride book and a Spike Lee movie in 2008.

Preceded by massive air and artillery bombardment, the offensive proceeded northward on 9 April 1945. Although the offensive met stiff opposition, Bologna fell to the U.S. Fifth Army on 21 April 1945. With the establishment of a bridgehead across the PoRiver on 23 April 1945, the fleeing forces were pursued rapidly northward. The final week of the war saw wide advances throughout northern Italy. On 2 May 1945, the enemy troops in northern Italy surrendered.

View of the Memorial at the Summit of the Cemetery
View of the Memorial at the Summit of the Cemetery

The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial

The Florence American Cemetery is one of fourteen permanent American World War II military cemetery memorials erected on foreign soil by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The countryside and small towns around the cemetery were liberated on 3 August 1944 by the South African Sixth Armored Division, and later became part of the zone of the U.S. Fifth Army. The seven-acre site, a gift of the city of Florence, is located astride the Greve River, and is framed by wooded hills.

4,402 servicemen and women are interred in the cemetery. Most died in the fighting which occurred after the capture of Rome in June 1944. Included among them are casualties of the heavy fighting in the Apennines, shortly before the war’s end.

Pure White Marble Gravestones
Pure White Marble Gravestones

In the memorial are many maps of the progress of German occupation of Europe, as well as two maps of the Italian Allied Campaign. The larger of the maps depicts Northern Italy and portrays military operations to the end of the war from the vicinity of the cemetery northward. The military operations as well as the general topography of the area are depicted in a mosaic of colored marbles, known as intarsia, an art form for which Florence is famous. The map is embellished in its upper left-hand corner by twelve shields, each bearing the shoulder insignia of American ground and air units that participated in the fighting in Northern Italy.

The smaller map illustrates the broad outline of military operations that took place in Sicily and then, throughout Italy, beginning in July 1943. The map was executed in scagliola by Emilio Martelli of Florence, a process consisting of drawings in colored artificial compositions that are inlaid in marble and glazed.

The Wall of the Missing behind the Monument to Peace
The Wall of the Missing behind the Monument to Peace

The Tablets of the Missing, which connect the north and south atria of the memorial, inscribed with the names and particulars of 1,409 Missing in Action in the region or lost or buried at sea, are constructed of travertine stone. Running the full length of the Tablets of the Missing above the names is the following inscription: HERE ARE RECORDED THE NAMES OF AMERICANS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY AND WHO SLEEP IN UNKNOWN GRAVES.

Within the graves area, the pure white marble (quarried north of Lake Como) headstones radiate in soft arcs, curving inward, following the shape of the gently sloping hills. Two rows of tall plane trees border a walkway that divides the cemetery.

The 69-foot pillar at the top of the walkway is inscribed in English and Italian:

1941-1945
IN PROUD MEMORY OF HER SONS AND
IN HUMBLE TRIBUTE TO THEIR SACRIFICES
THIS MEMORIAL HAS BEEN ERECTED BY
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Travertine Symbol of Peace
Travertine Symbol of Peace

The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial is situated approximately 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) south of Florence, Italy, on the west side of the Via Cassia, the main highway between Florence and Siena. The SITA bus from Florence to San Casciano stops at Falciani for visitors to the cemetery.

The Cemetery and Memorial are open daily to the public from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm except December 25 and January 1. A staff member is on duty in the Visitors’ Building to answer questions and escort relatives and groups to grave and memorial sites.

24 thoughts on “Dove Vai? – American World War II Cemetery Near Florence

  1. I visited this War Cemetery on Monday 4 May. It is absolutely wonderful and ever so sad. The three gentlemen in the Office are very courteous. In fact although I took photos of the grave site of a distant cousin in the USA, these people will – on receipt of a formal request from a relative in the USA who gives their personal details, and who says that none of the family have ever had nor will be likely to have an opportunity to visit the cemetery – take a photo of the grave and send it back via computer. I was given the e-mail of the HQ in Washington who will send on the USA request of my distant relatives there. I’m not including this e-mail here, but a written letter to the American War Cemetery, Falciani, Florence, will arrive and the office personnel – will take it from there. Thanks for this site.
    A visit to the cemetery is very much worth while, even if no relative is buried there..

  2. I just learned today that my uncle’s name is among those on the Tablets of the Missing at this cemetery. My father’s younger brother, his only sibling, I was named after him. Until today all I had of him was a photograph of a young man in uniform that I inherited from my father. A young man with a look of calm purpose but with a glint of mischief in his eye. I never knew him, but have always missed him. It is good to know that his memory rests in such a beautiful place.

  3. I am looking for my husbands father who died in world war 2. He was buried in Florence Italy..His name is Herbert W. Dilkes…If anyone could help us find his plot we would like to have a picture of it. thank you…

  4. I had no idea that this cemetary existed. A recent trip to Tuscany opened my eyes to this touching and beautiful memorial to our heros. thank you so much.

  5. My cousin, Dorrence White’s name is among the missing on the memorial tablets. He was a navigator aboard a B-24. His plane went down over the Adriatic Sea.

  6. Just returned from a visit to the memorial. It really is a beautiful site. My visit there renewed my appreciation for the sacrifice made by our troops and I intend to do more to support the maintenance of these memorials.

  7. We had the opportunity for visiiting the memorial in September 2012. My thoughts and prayers for those who sacraficed their lives and assured the freedoms we share today. As an American, I wish to express my appreciation to the Monuments Commission for the great care they have bestowed on those that gave the ultimate.

  8. going to see the grave site of bobby e comfort was killed july 13 1944 will be staying in florence italy . trying to find the best way to get to american battles cemetery.

  9. Rent a car or take the SITA bus to Greve, but be sure to ask at least 2 people besides the bus driver to tell you where to get off.

  10. Although it is the American Cemetery there are other nationalities that also made the supreme sacrifice.
    As a South African I am visiting the grave of my grandfather’s friend to pay my respect for what they did so far from home.
    What is sad is that in S. Africa the war and the sacrifices are now a distant memory for the youth, travelling to Florence is very expensive and the government does not view WWII as important.

  11. My father, Domitilio Garcia, was in South Africa in 1942.
    Spanish Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Cairo…onward to Tunis and Scicily
    Salerno, Naples, Anzio, Battle of Cassino, Fierenza and Bologna….
    He was a Medic in the Army-Air Force from Santa Fe, New Mexico
    1942-45. I am looking for a WWII Tour of these places. I would like to
    travel in the footsteps of my beloved father who sacrificed much when
    he volunteered for the war in 1942…leaving behind a wife and young
    children. I still remember D Day in my hometown of Santa Fe.

  12. Hello. I am looking to get a picture of a grave marker of a relative buried here. Jack D. Beall Plot H, Row 5, Grave 35. Also, I am also trying to locate a Giorgio Puliti with Romagna Air Finders who may live in this area and has researched the B-17 shoot down that occurred in Lucca Italy Oct 1, 1943 that killed Mr. Beall. Any information greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  13. Hello, I have information about the downed B-17 that Mr. Ken Beall is looking for! Can you kindly put me in contact with him? Thanks, Guido

  14. As a GI stationed at Vicenza in the early 60S, I made resupply runs to a detactment in the Brindisi area, an old Luftwaffe fighter base. Numerous trips and on one occasion I saw a small grave yard cemetery on the east side, of what I believe in on HW 16 in the area of Terminia north of Lecce/ very out of the way location/ As I remember there was 11 crosses and talked with the care taker who was paid by US govt out of the Rome Embassy and said his checks were signed by Claire Booth Luce at some point, he had been caretaker for some 17yrs. Has stuck with all these yrs and would appreciate any information available.

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