Ceremony recalls WWII fallen in Tunisia
Stars and Stripes May 29, 2008
TUNIS, TUNISIA — José Roman and his group took a trip Tuesday to the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial on a lark.
A memorial service was being conducted featuring Gen. William E. Ward, commander of the U.S. Africa Command. Ward was making his first visit to the country as AFRICOM chief. A small Navy band played, the sailors dressed in white.
Off to the side, 2,833 white crosses were planted across a sprawling green field representing the buried war dead. The cemetery, far away from the well-traveled ones in Europe, also had a wall for missing soldiers. Hundreds more names are inscribed on it, casualties from the World War II campaign in the African desert.
A slice of history, Roman said.
"It’s a small slice, but it’s a ‘big’ small slice — like 2,800 just in this space," said Roman, traveling with students and teachers from Philadelphia University in Pennsylvania.
Among the missing are 579 troops who perished when the SS Paul Hamilton was sunk April 20, 1944, by German dive bombers off the coast of Cape Bengut, Algiers.
"Our commitment to Americans is to make sure they know why we’re here," said Michael W. Green, a retired Marine and cemetery superintendent. "And also reminding the world what these soldiers did for us."
"I like to bring people out here," said Marine Sgt. Ian Motley, of the U.S. Embassy’s security detachment.
Motley added that he gets angry to see carvings in the cemetery’s trees, or when visitors frolic among the white-cross grave sites.
"I didn’t even know this existed until today, but it seems like a pretty big deal," said Mike Tagliavia, another student from Philadelphia University. "It seems like a very important part of our history, or at least it should be."
Chaplain spreads word of tolerance
While talking to imams during an October trip to Mali, Chaplain (Col.) David Colwell said he learned that many Malians did not know that Muslims lived in the United States — approximately 5 million to 6 million according to some sources.
Colwell, the AFRICOM command chaplain, said many North African Muslims feel the U.S. is at war with their religion. It is one of the beliefs Colwell hopes to dispel as he meets with religious leaders on the continent.
"It allows some transparency and education to take place about U.S. religion and culture," Colwell said. "Engaging with religious leaders is something (the U.S. military) haven’t done a good job of. But in many places, they are educating and setting the tone within their cultures."
Colwell said conversing with imams in Iraq and Afghanistan was a strategic necessity. He said AFRICOM plans to establish a program called Religious Leader Engagement in the continent’s Muslin north and Christian south, and hoped other military commands would adopt the program.
U.S. ambassador mixes AFRICOM, diplomats
Robert Godec, U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, hosted a reception Tuesday night for about 70 people at his residence, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea from atop a hill.
A mix of military, diplomatic and business people mingled and met with Ward and his wife, Joyce, the honored guests.
"It just offers us another way to reach out to Tunisian society and have a conversation with them," Godec said.
Godec, a 20-year foreign service officer, said he is supportive of the military’s AFRICOM concept when the military works with other agencies such as the State Department to fine-tune its activities.
"Coming out and talking to people is a great start," Godec said of Ward’s visit.