The Florence American World War II Cemetery is the smaller of two such cemeteries in Italy and thus seems more personal, more approachable, nestled in the classic Tuscan countryside below the hill town of Impruneta.
The World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial is more imposing in its sheer vastness, bringing home the horrible cost of war, but it is still a beautiful, meditative, and educational place to visit.
The southern Italian memorial, often know as the Anzio Cemetery, is located on the northern edge of the town of Nettuno near the site of the Anzio beach landing (January 22, 1944). It covers 77 acres, rising in a gentle slope from grand pool that surrounds an island containing a cenotaph flanked by groups of Italian cypress trees. Beyond the pool are row upon arcing row of headstones, marking the graves of 7,861 of American military war dead on broad green lawns beneath rows of Roman pines.
Beyond the almost unfathomable number of gravestones, the personal cost is readily apparent in the following stories: 23 sets of brothers are buried side by side, including two sets of twins; seventeen women and two children are among the dead; almost 6,500 soldiers died in two weeks starting with the bloody Anzio landing; in the attack on the City of Cisterna by the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions, only six men survived out of 767 soldiers; and only 35% of the of the Americans who died in the fighting between Sicily and Rome are buried in the cemetery or commemorated in the chapel. The marble walls of the chapel contain the names of 3,095 personnel missing in action.
The majority of these men and women died in the liberation of Sicily (July 10 to August 17, 1943); in the landings in the Salerno Area (September 9, 1943) and the heavy fighting northward; in the landings at Anzio Beach and expansion of the beachhead (January 22, 1944 to May 1944); and in air and naval support in the regions.
An educational map room, across from the chapel, contains a bronze relief map and four fresco maps depicting the military operations in Sicily and Italy. The maps on the east and west walls were designed by Carlo Ciampaglia of Middle Valley, New Jersey and executed in true fresco (mixing of pigments with the plaster as it is applied to the wall) by Leonetto Tintori of Florence. At each end of the memorial are ornamental Italian gardens.
The cemetery and memorial are cared for by the American Battle Monuments Commission and are open daily to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25 and January 1. The gates are open on Italian holidays. When the cemetery is open to the public, a staff member is on duty in the Visitor Building to answer questions and escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.