PADOVA, Italy – As an Italian brass quartet sounded a somber rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, Luca Bevilacqua gazed up at a steel beam from the World Trade Center and thought of fellow firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
He was among nearly 100 first responders, political leaders and U.S. Army representatives who took part in a ceremony at Padova’s "Memory and Light" monument Saturday to commemorate 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Bevilacqua, 38, an Italian volunteer firefighter in nearby Borgoricco, also thought of his uncle – a retired U.S. Army Soldier and his emotional 2004 visit to Ground Zero in New York City, where emergency responders had raced into the World Trade Center to rescue others.
“I was thinking about the memory of those guys that sacrificed their lives,” said Bevilacqua who, at age 18, watched the attack on his home television. “They went inside the twin towers and after that, they are only a memory.”
Rows of uniformed Italian firefighters stood in formation as Col. Matthew Gomlak, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Italy and Col. Michele Biasiutti, the Senior Italian Officer and Deputy Chief of Staff of Southern European Task Force, Africa, presented a large wreath at the foot of the monument. They were joined by representatives from USAG Italy’s Directorate of Emergency Services. Political leaders from Padova and the local area also presented a wreath.
Representing the U.S. government, Anthony Deaton, Consul for Press and Culture, U.S. Consulate General Milan, offered a speech in Italian. Afterward he spoke to local reporters about the significance of the day and America’s strong relationship with Padova and the Veneto region.
“We are deeply greatly to the people of Padova and the region of Veneto for the friendship they show throughout the year, every year, but also on this special day when we remember those who fell on 9/11,” Deaton said.
Islamic terrorists coordinated the 9/11 attacks, which included flying planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon. Passengers on another flight, United 93, fought back against the hijackers, who crashed that airliner into a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3000 people died in the attacks. The monument, designed Daniel Libeskind, was dedicated in 2005 to their memory. Just north of the city center, on via Giotto, the memorial’s tall walls include an 18-foot steel beam from the south tower.
The ceremony ended with a soft rendition of “Amazing Grace” reverberating echoing through the silent crowd. Afterward, Gomlak explained to local reporters how the world changed after 9/11, altering the daily lives of Americans and people everywhere.
“Routine matters such as air travel, access to public buildings and installations, attendance at concerts and sporting events changed forever,” Gomlak said.
The 9/11 attacks galvanized Americans to support each other and Italy supported the U.S. in an allied response to terror, Gomlak said. In 20 years of fighting terrorism, Italy lost 93 service members, Carabinieri and civilians.
“Italy has been a trusted and steadfast ally of the United States,” Gomlak said. “The U.S.-Italy partnership is one of our strongest.”
Civilian firefighters from USAG Italy also took part in a commemorative event in Venice. Gomak attended another ceremony later in Montecchio Maggiore, near Vicenza. In Tuscany, personnel from Camp Darby took part in a ceremony in nearby Pietrasanta.
Mayor Alberto Stefano Giovannetti led the morning event in the Piazza degli Americani, beside a monument representing the twin towers. Robert Chartier, USAG Italy’s Deputy Garrison Manager, joined U.S. Army military police and firefighters there. Italian senator Massimo Mallegni reminded attendees how Pietrasanta is a twin city of Montgomery, Alabama.
“Our friendship with the United States dates back even before WWII,” Mallegni said. “The monument symbolizes this long lasting friendship.”
Public Affairs Specialists Anna Ciccotti and Chiara Mattirolo contributed to this report