THOMSON, Ga. (AP) — A 98-year-old World War II veteran who took part in the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge and witnessed the German surrender during the war has been honored by France.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Louis Graziano was given the French Legion of Honor during a ceremony on Friday in Thomson, Georgia, where he lives. The honor has been given to many American World War II veterans as recognition for the role they played in liberating France from German occupation.
Hundreds of friends and family gathered for the ceremony which was 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 such 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 parlor as a hairstylist in 1943 when he was drafted by the army. In 1944, he took part in the June 6 invasion of Normandy.
In a video interview with the American Veterans Center and posted Youtube, Graziano described how he came ashore in the third wave of American troops on Omaha Beach.
“I drove a gasoline truck ... onto the beach and I jumped out of it real quick and got my guns and flame thrower," Graziano said. He “laid down on the ground of the beach there with the dead soldiers.”
As German gunfire rained down, he crawled over to the cliffs. Using his flamethrower he shot up the cliff to take out a machine gun. After D-Day, Graziano took part in weeks of fighting across Normandy and months later took part in the Battle of the Bulge, where he nearly lost his feet to frostbite.
He later became the utilities foreman for the 102nd Infantry Field Artillery Battalion, Special Headquarters Command in Reims, according to a blog on the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
As part of his job he was responsible for all American-occupied buildings in Reims, including the Little Red Schoolhouse where the Germans signed the surrender documents. After witnessing the signing of the surrender documents, Graziano took the Germans to another room to meet Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Graziano said during the video interview that he was “honored” to witness the surrender, and thought of the men who had fought and died to bring about the victory.
Graziano also met his future wife, Eula “Bobbie” Shaneyfelt, while he was in Reims. She was a staff sergeant in the Women's Army Corps. The pair eventually moved back to the United States, where they raised five children, and Graziano opened his own hair parlor in Thomson. His wife passed away in 2007. Graziano has also written a book about his experiences titled “A Patriot's Memoirs of World War II."