Memorial Day Reflections

Owner John Murphy shares a story from his recent trip to Italy and a WWII cemetery outside of Florence.


Published on 28 May 2024

Reflectioins on memorial day 2024

Gratitude for Those Who Served A story from Florence Italy

Recently I had a bucket list opportunity to vacation with friends in Italy. We a ooh’d and ahh’d over the incredible architecture, the elaborate paintings, and the incredibly detailed mosaics. I will never forget what I saw. 


Florence American Cemetery and Memorial.  Click the image to search this Cemetery.


As a construction professional, I am especially confounded by the scale of the many churches and great buildings in Rome as I try to envision the logistics involved in the building of structures so large and complex. They had to rely on ropes, pullies, skids, scaffolding, oxen, and men combined with the innovation of early architects and engineers to build things never imagined before and that have survived the millennia. 

While seeing sights and history of Italy alone is worth the trip, some of the most meaningful experiences are the unscripted moments. One stands out among them all and I’d like to share it with you.

At 8:30 in the morning, we met our driver for the day who was to take us along the countryside north of Florence. A middle-aged man with dark hair and a warm smile extended his hand and said, “I am Christiano, and I will be taking you on your tour today.” 


Honoring those fallen and never recovered.

I joined Christiano in the front passenger seat as we drove along narrow curving roads that passed through small towns, vineyards and occasionally opened to magnificent vistas. This gave me the chance to talk to our guide about everything under the sun including some more personal topics.

I learned that Christiano lived in Florence his whole life with his wife and had a 19-year-old daughter who was just about to get her driver’s license, and that he was in the Italian army for his mandatory year and through that experience became a bit of a war history guru. As we were driving through a hilly and forested area Christiano asked, “Would you like to stop at the Florence World War 2 American Cemetery.” I said “yes” before waiting for a consensus from the back seat.

After a few more turns the trees began to open up and we could begin to see the simple white crosses that marked the graves of fallen American soldiers. We drove up to the monument area and left our vehicle, then began to wander slowly through this venerated place. 


. The tall monument at this cemetery is known as the "Tablets of the Missing" or the "Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial" and it commemorates American soldiers who were killed in action during World War II but whose remains were never recovered or identified. 

I have been to our own Fort Snelling and even Arlington in Washington DC, but this place felt different. More solemn, more significant somehow because of the distance from our own shores.  How far they traveled to lay down their lives.

Surrounding the tower that was the center of the monument facing the white crosses was a large wall of brass plaques with 1,500 names, ranks and hometowns of some of the 4,392 Americans buried there. It is easy for those of us who are too young to remember, or likely not born yet, to think of WW2 vets as old, gray, and grizzled men whose youth has left them as they fade out of relevance to our current culture.

As I read through the names of these men, it was easy to find names of many from Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin as of course every state. What struck me standing there was the understanding that there were no old, gray men in these graves, but young fresh-faced boys who barely left high school. Some, not even that old!
As I read through individual names, I imagined seeing those boys saying their final goodbyes to their families. A firm handshake from their papa and desperate embrace from their momma before patting their brothers and sisters on the head, grabbing their gear, and heading out to risk their lives far away.


In memory of the glorious fallen soldiers, a tribute to their sacred sacrifice, the United States of America. 

We stayed in this hallowed setting for only about 20 or 30 minutes. But it was enough to take it into my core.

As we were getting ready to leave, Christiano shared this story. He said that one time he had brought an American veteran to this place who was a very large burly man with a big beard that he thought was maybe in his 80’s. With the directions that this man had on a written piece of paper, he helped him find several crosses of his band of brothers.

After some 20-minutes the man turned and walked toward him with the red swollen eyes of a man who had been reliving his hardest of days. As the man approached him, they fell into an embrace and wept together before making their way back to the vehicle.

When we got back in the van, Christiano reached down next to his seat and pulled out the old fatigues to show me what he wore when he was a young soldier. I think he did it to let me know how important this place was to him. 


We continued our day of touring and saw more small towns, and beautiful vistas and enjoyed a cabernet before heading back to our hotel. Upon exiting the vehicle and exchanging our appreciation for this great experience, Christiano asked my friend Mike and I if he could kiss our wives, which we obliged. He gave both ladies a formal “European hug-kiss–kiss” before shaking Mike’s hand and then turned to me.

I said to him, “Not that easy” and reached out to give him a firm hug.  He hugged back even harder. I wish everyone could experience that level of reverence and gratitude for those who sacrificed it all on our behalf. May we never forget.