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Maj. John Roney, left, helps his nephews and niece launch a four-person pedal boat Friday at the opening of the American Beach in Tirrenia, Italy. The summer got off to a fine start under a cloudless blue sky.
Maj. John Roney, left, helps his nephews and niece launch a four-person pedal boat Friday at the opening of the American Beach in Tirrenia, Italy. The summer got off to a fine start under a cloudless blue sky. (Kent Harris / S&S)

TIRRENIA, Italy — It’s officially summertime at Camp Darby as Americans flocked to the beach Friday for the first day of what officials hope is a long season of sun and fun.

The base’s American Beach saw its first few hundred visitors of the season after a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Admission was free on the opening day as was a barbecue lunch. Various equipment that the beach rents out during the course of its season was also free on opening day.

“The beach is open,” said Sally Holte, whose husband has been stationed at Camp Darby for about five years. “Nice weather. Beautiful day.”

And, of course, the hamburgers and hot dogs that Holte was standing in line for with dozens of others.

“Food is just one of the benefits,” she said. Her husband, Tech. Sgt. Shannon Holte, was due later in the afternoon. But 2-year-old daughter Julia was on the beach. She seemed more interested in the new playground equipment than in the food, though.

“Last year, she came here and ate all the sand,” her mom said. “So we figure this year she can come and play.”

Mary Roney was watching her husband, Maj. John Roney, play with his two nephews and niece. “Play” in this sense was taking a pedal boat onto the water.

“Absolutely beautiful,” Mary Roney said of the beach. “Stunning.”

Her husband has experience as a lifeguard. So she said she wasn’t worried about the kids. The beach also provides four lifeguards each day.

Sandro Maccheroni is beginning his third season as a lifeguard at the base. He spent last summer at the pool on base, but prefers working on the beach.

“The pool gets quite boring after a while,” he said, smiling. Not that he’s hoping for a lot of action at the beach this summer. The tide offshore can be treacherous at times. But locals can usually tell when conditions get bad and tell visitors to be careful.

Ernest Beezley, outdoor recreation manager at the base, said it’s hard to tell how many visitors the beach will see this year. Some estimate the base hosted about 40,000 guests last year.

“This year, there is a lot of uncertainty,” Beezley said. “I just spent a week in Germany and there are a lot of troops deployed right now.”

Beezley said the beach and base are a good alternative for those concerned about traveling in Europe now. He said the beach is guarded 24 hours a day and the base and its large campground also are secure.

For those who aren’t into camping, the base has two hotels, though they fill up quickly in the summer. And the seaside resort town of Tirrenia boasts dozens of hotels, though they’re also in demand by Italians who converge on the town in the summer.

Those interested in going to the beach don’t have to fight for a spot with the locals, though. The beach is privately run and reserved mostly for Americans, other members of NATO and some local national employees. Those interested in watching how the Italians play at the beach can easily do so, however. Italians were lounging Friday on either side of American Beach, taking in the same cloudless blue sky the Americans were enjoying.

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