THOMSON, Georgia (AP) – A 98-year-old WWII veteran who participated in the D-Day invasion and Battle of the Bulge and witnessed German surrender during the war has been honored by France .
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Louis Graziano was awarded the French Legion of Honor in a ceremony Friday in Thomson, Georgia, where he lives. This honor was bestowed on many American veterans of World War II in recognition of their role in the liberation of France from German occupation.
Hundreds of friends and family gathered for the ceremony held at the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center.
“France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to the bravery of these veterans and thanks to America,” said Vincent Hommeril, consul general of France in Atlanta, according to the newspaper. “You are a true hero. Your example is an inspiration for the future and your legacy provides a moral compass for generations to come.
Graziano was born in 1923 to Italian immigrant parents in East Aurora, New York. He was working at his sister’s beauty salon as a barber in 1943 when he was drafted into the military. In 1944, he participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6.
In a video interview with the American Veterans Center and posted on Youtube, Graziano described how he landed in the third wave of American troops at Omaha Beach.
“I drove a gasoline truck … on the beach and jumped out of it really quickly and got my guns and flamethrower,” Graziano said. He “lay down on the beach floor over there with the dead soldiers.”
As German fire rained down, he crawled to the cliffs. Using his flamethrower, he climbed the cliff to take out a machine gun. After D-Day, Graziano participated in weeks of fighting across Normandy and months later in the Battle of the Bulge, where he nearly lost his feet to frostbite.
He later became the foreman of public services of the 102nd Infantry Field Artillery Battalion, command of the special headquarters in Reims, according to a blog posted on the website of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.
As part of his job, he was responsible for all American-occupied buildings in Reims, including the Little Red School where the Germans signed the surrender documents. After witnessing the signing of the surrender documents, Graziano took the Germans to another room to meet General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Graziano said in the video interview that he was “honored” to witness the surrender and thought of the men who fought and died to achieve victory.
Graziano also met his future wife, Eula “Bobbie” Shaneyfelt, while he was in Reims. She was a master sergeant in the Women’s Army Corps. The couple eventually returned to the United States, where they raised five children, and Graziano opened his own hair salon in Thomson. His wife died in 2007. Graziano also wrote a book about his experiences titled “The Memories of a Patriot of World War II”.