Mike Piazza honors Memorial Day with visit to Florence American Cemetery

Written by: Janey Murray

Mike Piazza commemorated Memorial Day in a special way on Monday, May 31, 2021, honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country while serving on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Hall of Famer and his wife Alicia visited the Florence American Cemetery in Italy, where they took part in a Memorial Day ceremony honoring the fallen American soldiers who died on the battlefields in Northern Italy during the final years of World War II.

It was important to Piazza to remind people of the significance of the holiday.

“It’s nice that everyone gets to go to the beach and enjoy a barbeque, but it’s also important to think about the real reason for Memorial Day – those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom – to underscore what the real meaning of Memorial Day is,” Piazza said. “Especially in this last year of so much negative news, hopefully this is something we can all get behind.”

The Florence American Cemetery, which is located less than 10 miles south of the city of Florence, covers 70 acres and features 4,392 headstones. Most of the soldiers buried in the cemetery were killed in the fighting that took place following the capture of Rome in June 1944.

Piazza, whose father Vince was a military veteran, discovered the cemetery when visiting the U.S. Consulate in Florence several years ago. He was interested in learning more, so he began studying the American Battle Monuments Commission, which maintains the Florence American Cemetery and many other memorials and cemeteries abroad.

He eventually reached out to the director of the Florence American Cemetery to express his interest in returning for Memorial Day this year.

“I wanted to help make people aware and say that when things do come back to normal, to come back and visit these important historical markers,” Piazza said. “The families, the servicemen and women remembered there, would really appreciate it.”

Piazza spoke to the attendees at the ceremony, expressing how honored he was to have been invited to attend and represent the Hall of Fame, Major League Baseball and the New York Mets.

“It made me feel very reverent and peaceful and very appreciative [to take part in the ceremony],” Piazza said.

Among the many graves Piazza and his wife visited while at the ceremony was that of former professional baseball player Alvin C. Stiewe. Stiewe, who was a graduate of Sandusky High School in Ohio, played football and baseball in high school before going on to play professionally with Sandusky, Marion and Findlay of the Class D Ohio State League from 1936-38.

Stiewe completed his training for the Coast Artillery Airborne in Texas and North Carolina and then was sent overseas, taking part in the African campaign, the invasion of Sicily and the capture of Rome. While serving in the infantry, Stiewe was killed in action in Italy on Feb. 15, 1945, at just 27 years old.

For Piazza, the day was an opportunity to remember heroes like Stiewe and encourage others to visit the Florence American Cemetery to pay their respects to those who fought for their freedom.

“It’s important to reaffirm what the meaning of a hero is, the meaning of the sacrifice that we are able to enjoy,” Piazza said. “One thing I’ll always be thankful for is our country that’s given me everything I have. I truly feel that it is still, without a doubt, the best country on earth – a place where you can achieve your dreams if you work hard and pay the price and also have a little luck.”

Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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