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Sigonella Honors World War II Anniversaries

By Janine Scianna/ NAS Sigonella Public Affairs
Service members set the POW/MIA table. 
U.S. Navy photo by GMSN Rashond Grant
Service members salute during the POW/MIA table-setting ceremony.
U.S. Navy photo by GMSN Rashond Grant

The world is now 75 years removed from World War II. As the decades go by, the first-hand accounts of wartime are waning, replaced with lessons learned in history books and generational storytelling. As time passes, our society must work harder to preserve and commemorate the important sacrifices of service members from “The Greatest Generation.”

Naval Air Station Sigonella gathered to honor the veterans and campaigns of World War II. Service members from the U.S. Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force on June 4, 2019 to commemorate the anniversary of the critical Battle of Midway in 1952, one of the most decisive and pivotal battles in naval history. The three-day Midway conflict changed the trajectory of the war in the Pacific. During the battle, seven ships sank and 3,364 men lost their lives in the service of their respective countries. But the U.S. casualties were an order of magnitude smaller than the Japanese, and the lopsided victory significantly stalled Japanese advancement in the Pacific.

The victory has largely been credited to superior intelligence. Navy cryptologists were able to break Japanese code and know where and when the Imperial Navy was planning its next attack after victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Adm. Chester Nimitz was able to pool his resources for a surprise ambush, strategically positioning three American aircraft carriers and staffing Midway Airfield with 105 land-based search and combat planes from across the services.

Winning Midway meant that the U.S. Navy could switch from defensive to offensive mode in the Pacific, swinging the pendulum of momentum for the duration of the war. It also meant that Allied forces had more strategic options available to them in both theaters after the victory.

During Sigonella’s ceremony, NAS Sigonella Commanding Officer Capt. Kevin Pickard was quick to note that the decisive victory at Midway required the efforts and coordination of everyone involved.

“No man who fought goes unappreciated,” said Pickard. “Midway was an all hands effort, from the ships’ engine room Sailors to the gunner’s mates to the squadron maintenance crews.”

June 6, 2019 also marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Like Midway, the Normandy invasion is credited as being essential to winning the war on the European front. Unlike Midway, however, the casualties were much more substantial. Nearly 160,000 Allied troops landed along a heavily fortified, 50-mile stretch of French coastline in the historic operation known as D-Day. More than 4,400 of them perished, and at least 9,000 were wounded or missing on D-Day alone. But by day’s end, the Allies had gained a foothold to begin liberating Europe. Many of Sigonella’s own traveled to Normandy, France to take part in the worldwide celebration of the heroic actions of the Allied forces that fateful day.

Lt. Steven Hervey, one of NAS Sigonella’s chaplains, made the journey along with his family. Along with seeing the remaining defenses at Pointe du Hoc and speaking with WWII veterans, he said the French hospitality was humbling to experience.

“Seeing the beauty of the Normandy countryside and the appreciation of the French people even 75 years later was an inspiration for the work we do today as military members,” said Hervey.

Shannon Harden, sexual assault response coordinator for NAS Sigonella, also attended. She remarked about how physically being in Normandy allowed her to better appreciate what it might have felt like for Allied troops to land there on D-Day.

“What an honor it was to participate in such a mission,” said Harden. “I will definitely go again next year.”

These two campaigns altered the trajectory of the war in both theaters. Their significance and the heroism of service members that participated in them will never be forgotten. Yet, NAS Sigonella recognizes the spectrum of sacrifices that service members have made not only in these pivotal campaigns, but throughout our nation’s history.

As part of the Sailor 360 leadership development program, service members from across branches participated in decorating the symbolic POW/MIA table during the June 4 Midway ceremony. Each element of the symbolic place setting, from the pure white tablecloth to the slice of bitter lemon, invited ceremony observers to reflect on the sacrifices made by these service members. After the table was set, a bell was tolled once each for nine MIA and POW victims, who came from all service branches and whose sacrifices occurred during numerous U.S. military conflicts.

At its conclusion, Pickard reminded everyone of the purpose in coming together for this ceremony. The gravity of each of these conflicts and their role in changing the tides of World War II reminds us of the mission of the U.S. military and its allies in advancing and keeping peace worldwide.

“Whatever service or country you represent, this ceremony is about you. Take time to remember the sacrifices, but also be joyful about the service you give.