NISCEMI, Sicily — There’s no fee for honor, said Cristofero Ventura, who for two decades has maintained a memorial to American troops killed during the Allied invasion of Sicily 64 years ago.

“I make sacrifices, but for me, this is very important,” said the 65-year-old Sicilian. Ventura cares for the marble marker and grounds of a memorial honoring the 39 U.S. soldiers who died in fierce fighting at Ponte Dirillo, near Niscemi, during an operation that began the night of July 9, 1943.

“I wouldn’t accept money — not for this.”

Ventura’s family owns the small, stucco home where a marble slab hangs, bearing the etched names of killed soldiers from Gen. Matthew Ridgeway’s 82nd Airborne Division.

The 38 paratroops and one Navy ensign were dropped by glider near Gela as part of the pre-invasion Allied strike. The troops were scattered for miles because of bad weather and faulty navigation.

On July 10, 1943, Gen. George Patton’s forces landed on Sicily. Faced with light resistance, forces quickly took nearby Gela, Licata, and Vittoria. British forces landed unopposed and captured Siracusa.

“Niscemi elders who remember [the invasion] still recount to the younger generation the tragic events, but also they talk of hope and passion,” Niscemi’s mayor, Giovanni di Martino, said in an interview.

“The lesson we have all learned from the war is that whenever there is a need to protect freedom, democracy and peace, action must be taken with the local civilian population,” he said to those who gathered for the annual commemoration ceremony Friday hosted by the U.S. Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station out of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily.

For Cmdr. Scott Fields, NCTS’s commanding officer, the memorial “celebrates every patriot. The Italian patriots who died. The German patriots who died. As winners, we sometimes write history, but the fact remains, everyone was doing their job.”

“It’s important to realize the cost of freedom,” said Army Col. Gordon “Skipper” Davis, a company commander within the 82nd Airborne some 20 years ago, and now the deputy commander of Southern European Task Force (Airborne), based in Vicenza, Italy. He was asked to be the ceremony’s keynote speaker as he vacationed in Sicily.

Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Bayless, NCTS’s executive officer, said he brought history to life Friday as John Hoffpauir, a soldier with the 82nd back in the 1950s, called out the names of each of the 39 fallen in a symbolic roll call.

With each name, Bayless answered “present” on their behalf.

“Saying ‘present’ made it feel like they’d come back to life, at least for a little while. This way, their names never will be forgotten.”

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