The Naval Air Station at Sigonella and the Mayor of Gela, Sicily co-hosted a ceremony in the Mallia Palace, which is also known as the Palazzo Aldisio-Morso in the center of Gela. The ceremony was conducted inside due to the demonstrator threat. The formal ceremony was followed by a reenactment on the beaches of Gela in front of the Italian Coast Guard Headquarters.
The ceremony in the elegant palace was attended by almost more security and paparazzi than formal celebrants. The format of the ceremony was very similar to its counterpart five years earlier at Ponte Dirillo.
The mayor of Gela expressed the City’s thanks for being liberated 70 years earlier. There was a beautiful rendition of both the Italian and US national anthems by a young sailor. Following an invocation by a Navy chaplain, Colonel Mansager, formerly of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, introduced the US Ambassador David Thorne who spoke in Italian about the importance of the bond between the United States and Italy.
The Clarke family then presented a wreath in honor of all of the US soldiers who fell during Operation Husky. Colonel Clarke (the son of LTC Arthur F. Gorham, the lead name on the memorial at Ponte Dirillo) explained that the family was doing this in the honor of all of the men who gave their lives in the liberating of Sicily and Europe from Fascism).
A former member of the 82nd Airborne Division read the names from the monument at Ponte Dirillo and following the reading and a benediction the service was ending when it was interrupted by the arrival of the Governor of Sicily. (He is not known for his punctuality.) He made some highly political and critical remarks. Ambassador Thorne immediately responded by telling him that this was not a political speech but a remembrance of the lives of the men who lost their lives in liberating Sicily.
Following the end of the ceremony the Clarkes had a brief conversation with Ambassador Thorne and Colonel Clarke presented him with a commemorative coin.
The trip to the Coast Guard Headquarters was short but secured by Italian Police and NCIS. Outside of the Coast Guard Headquarters the protestors who had been everyone’s concern showed up. They were a small but extremely vocal and disruptive group led by two professional agitators. They tried to block the re-enactors in the Duck landing craft from reaching the beach and then once they had entered the water from getting back on land. They failed in both efforts. The re-enactment group had multiple kinds of World War II vehicles which were paraded proudly.
A summary video of the day is available.
Following the ceremony the wreath was posted at the Ponte Dirillo memorial by a Navy contingent.
Both commemorative ceremonies were important but the outpouring of true emotion at Ponte Dirillo will live forever.