'Always comrades:' Ceremony honors WWII prisoners
by Madasyn Czebiniak
mczebiniak@annistonstar.com
Nov 17, 2013 | 4011 views |  0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
German soldiers Sunday place a wreath at the McClellan cemetery where 29 German and Italian prisoners are buried. The men died while being held at camps around the South during World War II. (Photo by Madasyn Czebiniak/The Anniston Star)
German soldiers Sunday place a wreath at the McClellan cemetery where 29 German and Italian prisoners are buried. The men died while being held at camps around the South during World War II. (Photo by Madasyn Czebiniak/The Anniston Star)
slideshow
Despite the rain, George E. Guerieri, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, wanted to pay his respects to his comrades in arms. And on Sunday at noon he did just that.

With help from his son-in-law, the 86-year-old stood from his wheelchair and slowly climbed the hill leading up to the cemetery from Shipley Drive.

Others followed, bowing their heads and laying out wreaths and flowers for those buried there.

On Sunday, for the seventh year in a row, a ceremony was held at the cemetery in McClellan where 29 German and Italian soldiers, who died while being held as prisoners of war in camps across the South, were laid to rest.

“I spent three years in Germany so a lot of these names are familiar, and I spent a month in Italy so those names are familiar, too,” Guerieri said as his eyes drifted over the graves. “These guys here were our enemies at one time, but they’re comrades. Once a soldier, you’re always comrades in arms, and you know they’re lonely a long way from home.”

Even with the light rain, a small group of people gathered at the cemetery to watch the wreath laying. However, the rest of the attendees met at the McClellan Amphitheatre, where the ceremony was moved.

After James Gauino, a 14-year-old from the Donoho School, played the German poem-turned-song, “Ich hatt' einen Kameraden” (translated as “I Had a Comrade,”) on his bugle, the audience of more than 50 heard from speakers.

German representative Lt. Col. Stefan Deppe, said he was pleased to be speaking in honor of his fellow soldiers. Deppe greatly expressed his gratitude for those in attendance, especially those not in uniform, because they gave up their Sunday to remember others.

“You are here to make the memories of these poor souls stay alive despite their nationality and despite what they did,” he said.

During the reception following the ceremony, Anniston historian Joan McKinney announced that a mural painted by German prisoners of war would be available for public viewing from 2-4 p.m. in Remington Hall.

The artists, whom McKinney identified as Albin Sagadin, 30, and Herbert Beleau, 22, created the life sized mural, which has a medieval theme, while they were being held as prisoners in the Fort McClellan camp.

McKinney said even though there are other examples of prisoner art in the United States, this mural is one of a kind because of its complexity.

McKinney believes that Sagadin’s largest piece, in which several men are shown attacking and fighting one another, represents conflict.

“It depicts man’s struggle in life,” she said.

McKinney said Sunday that she and others tried to reach out to Sagadin to let him know his work had been discovered, but his widow informed them he had already passed away.

“He never knew that his art had impacted thousands of people or that it had been maintained,” she said.

Roberta Adams, 47, of Huntsville, said she came to the ceremony to honor her Italian heritage and her veterans.

“It’s important to represent my heritage and give my respect to the veterans who risked their lives for us,” she said.

Guerieri agreed.

“These guys gave their lives for their countries,” he said. “They gave their lives for what they believed in.”

Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.
Comments must be made through Facebook
No personal attacks
No name-calling
No offensive language
Comments must stay on topic
No infringement of copyrighted material


Friends to Follow


Today's Events

event calendar

post a new event

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Marketplace