Recalling history, honoring the fallen
May 19, 2003
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — As his generation’s war moves into another phase, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Steven Cesare this weekend will be honoring those who died in a war from an earlier time.
Cesare, 26, and dozens of U.S. servicemembers throughout Europe will attend and participate in ceremonies to honor those who died fighting in World War I and World War II.
Cesare is one of 43 sailors, Marines and airmen from Rota who will travel to France to participate in a Memorial Day weekend ceremony at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial.
He wanted to join the ceremony because he feels it is important to pay his respects to the sacrifices of past generations.
“I find it kind of interesting,” said Cesare, an information technician with three years of service in the Navy. “And I know there’s a lot of buried Americans there. I thought it was an amazing number, and I thought it would be nice to go there and be part of the ceremony.”
Servicemembers from Rota were handpicked by their commands to participate in the ceremony. Commanders chose personnel with exemplary career records for the opportunity to go to southern France.
Lt. Corey Barker, the base public affairs officer, said commanders wanted the “best of the best and brightest” junior sailors.
“It’s an incredible opportunity” for a young servicemember to learn the history of World War II and commemorate those who died liberating France, Barker said.
This is the second year the base has sent a group to the cemetery for the service. Other commands and bases in Europe are sponsoring similar trips to memorial sites and cemeteries.
There are 124,917 American war casualties buried at overseas cemeteries managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, a small, independent agency of the federal government.
The commission administers, operates and maintains 24 permanent American burial grounds on foreign soil.
Rhone American Cemetery is in the city of Draguignan, France, about 20 miles west of Cannes. The 12-acre burial ground is set at the foot of a hill and among olive trees. White crosses mark the graves of 861 American casualties.
The cemetery site was selected for its historic location along the route of the U.S. 7th Army’s drive up the Rhone Valley during World War II.
Cesare said that although the Americans buried in France are from another generation, he feels a kinship with them because he is in the military.
“We watched a war on TV and the number of the casualties was a real big deal,” he said. “But it’s real minute to the number that gave their lives over there.”
The U.S. lost 405,399 American troops in World War II. In the war in Iraq, 151 Americans have died, according to the latest Department of Defense figures.