The Americans in Florence

American Cemetery and Memorial Florence. Photo: www.abmc.gov

The current exhibition ‘Americans in Florence’ in the Strozzi Palace in Florence covers the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century. Many American artists travelled to Europe after the civil war (1860-1864). They took up residences in France, Holland, Germany, Spain and other countries which were considered crucial to a painter’s education. One little known spot, the Cimitero agli Allori, is a silent witness of their presence. Here can be found the mortal remains of all those who chose Florence as their city to live and die. There is one other spot in Florence that houses Americans however. They visited Florence not as artists, but as liberators. They are not buried out of choice in Florence, but because of fate. The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial is the last stand for thousands Americans who fought and died in Italy in 1944 and 1945. At the occasion of the sixth of June, it seems appropriate to give the floor to the French poet Jean Goujon, who wrote these words for the American liberators of France, the other hot spot of American painters in the second half of the nineteenth century and first decade of the twentieth century:

Dear Veteran:

I’m writing to you “Thank you”, and,
through me, there are
thousands of children speaking
to thousands of Veterans.

Like us, you were young
and carefree, but, when you were only
twenty years old, Liberty
called-called you, to say:

“I am dying. Come and save me”.
and you arose, full of courage
and zeal, to answer the call.

You underwent training,’
day after day, for “D’Day, and,
one day in June, you arrived
by air and sea.

And you fought with the heart
and soul of a free man,
so that we, too, might be free.

You saw your fellows fall on our
beaches and in our fields
and, in spite of your grief and your
injuries, you stayed on and fought
side-by-side with us.

And so, dear Veteran,
I want to tell you,
regarding those dear
to you who sacrified
their youth and are now
resting in peace,
the sleep of the just, that,

“We are the children
They never had”.

And to you, dear Veteran,
Who offered your bravery
And your most promising years
For this our land, I say to you,

“We are your sons,
Sons and daughters of liberty”.
Who want to say to you today,
A heartfelt “MERCI”.