VICENZA, Italy — Upset by an Italian protest during the off-base graduation ceremony for an American high school, the Army’s senior leader in Italy sent a letter to local newspapers decrying the “classless” act.

Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), wrote in the letter that he attended the Vicenza High School graduation on Sunday night at Teatro Olimpico, a historic venue in the heart of the city. The school holds its graduations in the theater every year.

“When I arrived, I was appalled to see that there were demonstrators standing at the entrance with flags and banners, whistling and chanting,” he wrote.

“What I saw was completely out of character for the majority of the citizens of Vicenza. Vicenza is a dignified city. The demonstration Sunday night during an event for our children, their high school graduation, was classless.

“I realize that demonstrations are allowed in a democracy but, in this case, the demonstrators clearly displayed an ignorant and uncaring attitude toward children. Unquestionably, inappropriate and reprehensible behavior. I am embarrassed, not only for the citizens of Vicenza but for the graduating seniors and their families. This behavior saddens me and, in my opinion, a few spoiled what was to be a fond, memorable event.”

Italian police kept control of the situation and no protesters were allowed inside the theater. There was no disruption to the actual ceremony.

Helmick, who has two daughters who attend the school as underclassmen, was involved in Army birthday celebrations, a press conference and tour with Italian media Thursday and could not be reached for comment about the letter.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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