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(Enlarge) Two German navy personnel and two Italian army soldiers stand beside their country's respective wreaths during a ceremony Sunday to recognize the German and Italian World War II prisoners of war buried at Fort Meade. (Photo by Phil Grout)

For the first time, the installation held a joint wreath-laying ceremony Sunday to remember the World War II German and Italian prisoners buried at the post cemetery.

The memorial was followed with a brunch at Club Meade.

Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein welcomed Capt. Günther Fritz, deputy commander and chief of staff of the German Armed Forces Command/United States and Canada, and Brig. Gen. Pietro Tornabene, military attaché from the Embassy of Italy in Washington D.C., along with other service members and civilians.

"The Fort Meade community is incredibly honored to have you here today to observe, as friends and allies, the continued partnership during this special occasion," Rothstein said.

In September 1943, 1,632 Italian and 58 German prisoners of war arrived at the installation, according to the Fort Meade Museum website. They worked on farmland in the surrounding areas and built bridges on the post.

Two Italian POWs and 33 German POWs died here and were buried at Fort Meade including German submariner Werner Henke. The captain is the sole German navy officer buried along with the enlisted German soldiers.

At the time that Henke's U-boat was sunk by U.S. forces on April 9, 1944, he was the leading U-boat ace of active U-boat commanders, according to Tim Mulligan, author of "Lone Wolf: The Life and Death of U-Boat Ace Werner Henke," who attended the event.

Henke, who was captured by U.S. naval forces, was shot while trying to escape from a secret interrogation center at Fort Hunt, Va.

A day before the ceremony, members of the post's German Wives Club placed bouquets of red and yellow flowers tied with black ribbons and miniature German flags at each of the 33 gravesites. Two Italian flags were displayed at the respective gravesites as well.

In his remarks, Rothstein said one purpose of the annual observance is to recognize the "partnership between our countries and our service members. ... We've come a long way since these young soldiers have been laid to rest."

Rothstein noted that when he was stationed in Germany in the late 1980s, the Berlin Wall was torn down, "which initiated such change throughout Europe."

Rothstein recalled his recent, yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, where a relationship was built "with the German allies up north and my Italian friends in the west" and that he worked side-by-side with Germans and Italians.

The United States, Germany and Italy share a common destiny and common responsibilities, Rothstein said, "as allies and friends not separated by language or uniforms. ...

"It is my goal that this traditional observance continues as a model that illustrates [a] continued future of hope and peace," he said.

Tornabene called the ceremony "a moment of sorrow, but also of joy."

Tornabene explained that the tribute is a joy -- "joy to know that every sacrifice for our country is worthy to be taken because it will be remembered years after by other military fellows that will keep alive the flame of life."

Before ending his remarks, Tornabene announced the names of the two Italian POWs, Agostine Maffies and Pasquino Savigini, buried at Fort Meade.

"May God bless our and all fallen soldiers," he said.

Fritz spoke of the German National Day of Mourning, which was initiated in 1919 after World War I and was re-introduced in Germany in 1952.

He said that while many who gathered at the event may be too young to have witnessed the events personally, "some might have experienced tragedies within their families and neighborhoods.

"It is our task and duty to keep the memory alive -- to honor the victims, and to make sure that tragedies like these will never occur again." Fritz said.

He then spoke of the young women and men in uniform from the U.S., Germany, Italy and other allied and partner countries who stand side-by-side "to defend our freedom and security and to help other countries on their way to a brighter and more hopeful future."

That freedom comes at a price, he said, noting that the day's observance should not be limited to the women and men who died in the two World Wars.

Fritz then asked everyone gathered at the ceremony to remember the victims of violence, war, hatred and persecution.

"Our responsibility is to ensure peace among people worldwide," he said.

After the key remarks, a moment of silence was held. Rothstein, Fritz, Tornabene and Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith then saluted a German and an Italian wreath.

Maria Vann, president of the German Wives Club, said preparing the German gravesites for the ceremony has been a club tradition for at least 20 years.

The occasion, she said, is a time to "remember the soldiers who couldn't go home."

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