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    Witness to Victory

    D-Day soldier Louis Graziano is the last living eyewitness of Germany’s surrender in World War II

    11/1/2021
    U.S. Army Master Sgt. Louis Graziano is pictured with his future wife, Sta  Sgt. Eula “Bobbie” Shaneyfelt, in Reims, France, in 1945

     

    Luciano “Louis” Charles Graziano was born in February 1923, the youngest of five children. His parents came through Ellis Island from Sicily and settled near Buffalo, N.Y. After eighth grade he quit school to go to work, and later joined his family’s hair salon business.

    Graziano set aside his scissors to take up arms during World War II, landing at Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944. The following year, he was present in the room at Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims, France, where German Gen. Alfred Jodl signed the Instrument of Surrender on May 7, 1945.

    A charter member and past grand knight of Father Larry Endrizzi Council 6918 in Thomson, Ga., Graziano was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honor in Thomson on Sept. 17.

    In January 1943, I received a letter from Uncle Sam to report to Fort Niagara for a physical. After combat training, I left for England with 16,000 troops on the Queen Mary.

    During the 18 months I spent in England, we had a lot of tough training as we prepared for the invasion of Normandy. At one point, a German plane came every night waking us up. Finally, I said to the men, “Let’s stay up and get that plane.” I put a tracer bullet — one that lights up — every fourth bullet in my gun to be able to find our target, and I shot that plane down. Another time, I was sent for six weeks on a secret mission to London. Almost every night, the bombs would whistle and explode, and I never knew if I was going to get hit. It made me pray harder to God for protection.

    The night before we landed on Omaha Beach, we had a prayer meeting, and that was one night everyone prayed.

    When we landed in the morning, we were in the third wave. I drove a truck off the landing ship, then jumped out of it in a hurry because the Germans were up on top of the cliff shooting down at us. I lay down among the dead soldiers and then crawled toward the cliff, which was 100 feet high. When I finally got under it, we set the woods on fire and got rid of that machine gun on top. Then I shot a flare up in the sky, knowing the Navy would know what to do: They took out another machine gun for us.

    I was in charge of 35 men, and sadly lost two when we made the landing on the beach. Most of my men had lost their guns in the water coming ashore, as they would have drowned if they didn’t drop them and other equipment on their backs. We remained underneath the cliff for a day, until the arrival of the Rangers, who were the first group of soldiers to climb the cliff.

    Then I said, “All you men without a gun, go down and get one off the dead soldiers and follow me up the cliff.” So, we followed the Rangers up the cliff while the Germans continued shooting down at us. And we finally made it up there and got control of them.

    LIBERATION & SURRENDER

    For the next 43 days, we fought all the way to Saint-Lô and then kept on traveling till we got to Reims, where Gen. Thrasher put me in charge of utilities. He gave me 35 men to work with, and we had to take care of all the buildings in Reims that the Americans occupied. I put the men to work getting things done.

    At one point, the general came over and said, “I need for you to put a telephone in Gen. Eisenhower’s quarters.” I took my buddy Buck with me, and we had to run wire through the town and fields while watching out for mines. We stayed at headquarters a couple days with Gen. Eisenhower. He was really good to us, and it was an honor to serve under him.

    The war continued through 1944, and one day that the winter, the captain asked me to go on a mission. I asked him if it was a request or an order. He said, “I can make it an order.” I replied, “OK, let’s go.” I had been in the worst possible battle in my life at Omaha Beach, so what could be worse?

    We had to find a company of troops that were lost and needed to get to Bastogne, Belgium, to reinforce Gen. Patton’s men who were cut off by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. It was snowing hard and bitterly cold. We went out and found them between Reims and Metz. As we escorted them up to Bastogne, we were worried that we might not have enough food, ammunition or warm clothes. I had not been issued combat boots and my feet froze.

    Once we arrived in Bastogne and got them all situated, the captain and I went back to Reims — and I made it back there just in time. Fluid was coming out of the sores in my swollen feet; another day and they would have had to amputate them. I stayed in the infirmary three weeks before they let me out.

    One building in Reims that I took care of was known as the “Little Red Schoolhouse,” which was used as Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, where Gen. Eisenhower and his staff were quartered. I found out May 6 that the German commanders would be coming in to sign the “Instrument of Surrender.”

    I had set up a war room with all the maps, where they were to do the signing. I was honored to be in that room when the surrender was signed in the early hours of May 7, 1945. The German general wouldn’t sign until the Americans, British, French and Russians had signed. He wanted to be the last one. When we got through, the Germans had nothing but a straight face. They got up and clicked their heels together.

    Then I took them into Gen. Eisenhower’s office, which was a couple of doors down the hall. He asked them if they were satisfied with how everything went. And they nodded their heads and clicked their heels together. He dismissed them. And that was the end of that.

     

    Graziano displays the French Legion of Honor medal he was awarded on Sept. 17. A charter member and past grand knight of Father Larry Endrizzi Council 6918 in Thomson, Ga., he is seated in Lou Graziano Hall alongside a poster showing the cover of his memoir. Photo Photo by George Hosek

     

    THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE

    One day after the surrender, Buck said, “Let’s go watch the ladies play ball.” So he got his girlfriend and the three of us went to a Women’s Army Corp softball game in Reims. I said to them, “Who’s that pitching?” Buck’s girlfriend said, “Her name is Bobbie, and she’s my best friend.” So, the next day I asked her for a date, and she said, “OK.” I went to pick her up that night. But when I got there, the lady in the office said, “She’s already gone with somebody.” So, I got stood up!

    About two weeks later, I went back and asked her for a date again. And that time Staff Sgt. Eula “Bobbie” Shaneyfelt was there. Little did I know that I would be marrying the girl of my dreams a few months later in Reims and honeymooning in Paris. We got married by a priest when we arrived in New York.

    My wife was from Alabama, and she didn’t like the snow up north. So, we eventually moved to Thomson, Ga., where we raised our five children and I opened Louis Hair Styling Salon.

    I also helped establish and build our parish church. In 1977, I joined the Knights of Columbus and was a charter member of our council, signing up about 30 men at the beginning. I later served as grand knight and as treasurer for about 20 years. Both of my sons and two grandsons joined our council too.

    We do Friday fish fries, spaghetti dinners and chili suppers for the whole parish. And we raise a lot of money and do a lot of good for people who need help.

    I think all Catholic men should join the Knights of Columbus. It makes them better men — men who work to help others.

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