THOMSON, Ga (WJBF)- Friday, the nation will celebrate its veterans. Those who sacrificed so much in service of their country.
In November’s Hometown History, Kim Vickers sat down with a World War two veteran who saw action in two of the war’s most famous battles.
Luciano, or Louis, Graziano was drafted into the army in 1943, just weeks before his 20th birthday.
He fought at the Battle of Normandy and and in the Battle of the Bulge. He is also the last living person who was there when the Germans surrendered to Allied Forces.
“Well I was in the room there when they signed that surrender. It was a great day, because I knew then that I was going to get to go home,” said Graziano.
Graziano was born in February of 1923 in New York. His parents were Sicilian immigrants who were processed through Ellis Island.
“And my sisters went to beauty school and were hair stylist and my mother worked in there with them. And then when I got out of grade school, I went to beauty school and took up hair styling in 1939,” he explained.
And that’s what he did until January of 1943 when Graziano was drafted into the army. He said he wasn’t scared to go to war.
“I was ready to go. A lot of the boys were going– four of us from my hometown. We all went in the same day. And we all got sent to different places.”
Graziano went to Camp Hood, later renamed Fort Hood, in Texas for training before being shipped off to London.
He traveled there on the ship, the Queen Mary, and it wasn’t a pleasant trip. Besides being chased by German U boats, the ship hit terrible storms and at one point, it nearly capsized.
“Didn’t know if we were going to turn over or not in that storm. But, I just didn’t think too much about it. I mean, I wasn’t afraid. I just took it as it came.”
Once he arrived in London he was assigned a job in utilities because of past experience, though he never had any formal training.
“And then they put me in charge of building the barracks for the troops, which I was good at,” Graziano said.
In June of 1944, Allied Forces invaded Normandy, France in the battle famously referred to as D-Day. Graziano’s unit went to Omaha Beach, the most heavily guarded of the five beaches. He was part of the third wave of troops to go ashore.
“I drove a gasoline truck off of the LST onto the shore, then got under the cliff. Then when I got under the cliff, the Germans were up on top and were shooting down at us,” Graziano remembered. “Then I got my flame thrower out and I shot a flame thrower up underneath where the machine gun was and put that all on fire and got rid of that.”
Graziano survived D-Day. He made his way through France to Reims, where he served under Brigadier General Charles Thrasher, who put him in charge and sent him to get supplies.
“The Frenchman wouldn’t sell it to me. So I went back, got me four men and went back over there and I told him I wanted that stuff. He still said no, so I pointed my gun at him and said ‘Ok men, load it up.”
He left a list of what they took and told the shop keeper where to get his payment.
Some time later, when the barber got sick, he was called up to fill in because of his background as a hairstylist. First up? None other than Brigadier General Thrasher.
“The first one to come in was the General. I says ‘Oh Heck.’ But I cut his hair and it was good. He liked it.”
During his time in Reims, he was part of a unit sent to help find General George Patton’s missing troops during the famous Battle of the Bulge.
“I went out with them. It was snowing real bad. We found them and on our way up to Bastogne, I got frozen feet,” Graziano said.
Graziano nearly lost his feet during that trip.
While in Reims, Graziano met the love of his life, Bobbie Shaneyfelt, who was serving with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp. He saw her pitching in a softball game and knew he had to meet her.
“The next day I went to the orderly room where she worked and asked her for a date. And she said ok, so when I went to pick her up that night, they said, she’s already going with somebody. I said ok,” he recalled. “So, her friends told her she wouldn’t get another date with me. She told them she would. And a week or two so later I went and asked for a date again, and that time she was there. And was there ever since.”
In June of 1945 Graziano married Bobbie and they honeymooned in Paris. They remained married until her death, raising their 5 children.
Graziano: “She was a staff sergeant and I was Master and I pulled my rank on her. Until we got home. ((laughs))
Kim: “Then she was…she had the rank.”
Perhaps the most fascinating part of Graziano’s service during WWII is the fact that was in in the room when the Germans surrendered to allied forces. He has the distinction of being the last surviving witness to that historic event.
“I set up the room there at the Little Red Schoolhouse for Eisenhower. And he wasn’t in the room when they signed. He was up the hall in another room. He didn’t want to be in there in case they decided not to sign it. So, after they signed it, i took them up to his room, then he questioned them.”
The war was officially over in September of 1945. Graziano turned down a promotion because he was just ready to go home.
His ship hit bad weather, again nearly capsizing. He arrived on Christmas Day thinking Bobbie would be waiting for him, but she wasn’t.
“And it was 30 days before I heard the ship had cracked up. And the Enterprise ship had to go– they went back to America but they had to turn around and go back to pick them up,” he said.
Bobbie finally joined him at home and in the 1950’s they moved to Thomson where the family remains today. Graziano built a hair salon there that his family still runs.
In 2019, he published his book “A Patriot’s Memoirs of World War II” about his experiences. It was a surprise to him that the book received a lot of recognition.
“I didn’t think anything about it. I thought I was doing it for the family, you know. Then word got out and everybody wanted the book,” Graziano smiled.
Graziano received several medals for his service during World War II including the French Legion of Honor last September.
He will celebrate his 100th birthday in February.
If you would like a copy of his book, it is available on Amazon.
Hey CSRA! That’s just part of your Hometown History.
Photojournalist: Will Baker.