Along Gordon Highway, just before the Gate 2 entrance to Fort Gordon, 22 unassuming white headstones lie in the grass.
They are prisoners of war -- 21 German and one Italian -- buried at Fort Gordon since World War II.
Almost 70 years later, Germans, Italians and Americans came together at those grave sites Sunday to pay tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives so far from home.
“You see so many young ages on the headstones,” said Kathy Tuckey, whose husband is retired from the military. “You know they have family members who miss them. This is a way of connecting with them.”
Tuckey said the ceremony was emotional because she knows there are so many Americans who have lost their lives overseas while being prisoners of war, and she can only hope that there are families paying the same respects to them.
The ceremony happens every year during this time to be close to Veterans Day and the German Memorial Day, Volkstrauertag, or “people’s mourning day.”
The memorial opened with a presentation of the colors, and the American, German and Italian national anthems played by the Fort Gordon band.
In the crowd of about 150 people were members of the American German Friendship Club of Augusta and Columbus, as well as local Italians. All three anthems were sung by different sections of the audience. Gluhwein, a ciderlike drink, and cakes were served.
During the wreath presentation, Gabriella Bailo Conner and her husband walked the wreath to the grave site of the Italian soldier, located to the left of the German plots.
Conner was with her family in Zara, Italy, during World War II. She said she was “greeted by bombs” when she entered the world in 1941.
Shortly after, Zara was destroyed, and her family spent the next seven years trying to get to the United States.
“I had uncles who didn’t return from the war,” she said. “In a way, I am honoring my entire family by being here today. I am always thrilled when they ask me to do this.”
She and her husband have five children who all have served in the U.S. military. The family members have a combined 19 combat tours.
Dr. Lutz H. Groegens of the German Consulate spoke about the meaning of the memorial.
“I’m moved to be back here,” he said.
He thanked Fort Gordon on behalf of the German government for taking care of the grave sites after all these years.
Lt. Col. Lothar Lange has been in charge of the memorial since he inherited the duty in 2008.
“It is an honor to be part of it,” he said. “These men sacrificed everything.”