They died far from home and family, fighting a war to free the world from fascism.

They came from every state in the union, from all walks of American life. They were black, brown and white, gentile and Jew. Most were young.

They fought near here as comrades, and lie here as brothers-in-arms.

A total of 4,402 American war dead are buried in the Italian soil at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial. Most died in fighting between June 1944 and May 1945, and found their final resting place in 70 acres of hallowed ground administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The cemetery, one of 14 that the ABMC takes care of around the world, is on a plot of land that was liberated by the South African 6th Armored Division in 1944. The site was chosen after World War II for a permanent cemetery, consolidating temporary ones used during the war. It was completed in 1959.

The cemetery office and visitors center are at the entrance to the cemetery. A bridge crosses the Greve River into the cemetery proper and leads to a towering flagpole. A lane running from left and right of the pole leads past two statues honoring the 361st and 363rd Regiments of the 91st Division.

Beyond the Stars and Stripes, a mall of green grass leads up the hill, splitting the graves area in two.

The rows and rows of gleaming white crosses and Stars of David are divided into eight plots, four on each side of the grass. Each gravestone is inscribed with the name, rank, unit, home state and date of death of the fallen. Some, however, are engraved with: "Here Rests in Honored Glory a Comrade in Arms Unknown but to God."

There are a few graves with more than one unknown whose remains couldn’t be separated. There are also five pairs of brothers buried here, side by side.

Overlooking the graves is the memorial, a low, graceful structure, made up of two atriums connected by the wall. On it are tablets, engraved with the names of 1,409 missing servicemembers. At the south atrium is the cemetery chapel; the other atrium is adorned with campaign maps of the war.

In front of the building, opposite the flagpole, is a 69-foot-high pylon. An American eagle and a figure representing the spirit of peace hovering over the fallen crown it. At its base is inscribed:

"In proud memory of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices, this memorial has been erected by the United States of America."

No more needs to be said of the men and women who gave their livesfor their country.

Getting thereThe Florence American Cemetery is about 7½ miles south of Florence, and about two miles south of the Certosa-Firenza exit on Autostrada 1. It is just off the Via Cassia, the highway that connects Florence with Siena.

HoursThe cemetery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except on Jan. 1 and Dec. 25. There is no admission charge, but be sure to sign the guest book in the visitors center. Free parking is available near the office and visitors’ center.

FoodThere is no place to eat at the cemeteries, but there are restaurants and cafes in the towns nearby.

Memorial DayThis year’s Memorial Day ceremony is Monday at 11 a.m.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now