Friends, family and area military veterans recognized two nonagenarians who served in World War II during a recent noon reception in Thomson.
Luciano “Louis” C. Graziano, 96, of Thomson, and James L. Price, 93, of Augusta, both of WWII, and other local veterans of Vietnam, told solemn and funny stories about their lives in service and in combat during a Dec. 12 gathering at Away We Go Travel.
In an act of remembrance, veterans and area collectors of historic military vehicles, brought jeeps and other vehicles and accessories to the lot at 238 W. Hill St. to showcase and provide examples of what Graziano and Price and others may have ridden in during WWII. There also were vehicles that veterans may have ridden as part of their duties in Vietnam and other military eras. There are nearly 50 collectors of historic military vehicles in the area including in Thomson, Augusta and Aiken, South Carolina.
“We are here to honor two World War II veterans; there are very few left in America today. We are here to honor Louis Graziano and James Price because they are part of the greatest generation and the toughest generation,” said David Moore, who along with four other military veterans, organized the reception and vehicle display. ‘These men joined the service early and they made great sacrifices,” he said.
Moore said Price, at 19, and Graziano, at 20, were among the 11 percent of population who were in the military during that era. Today, he said, less than one percent of the U.S. population serves in the military.
“They endured a lot and they put their lives on the line, not only for America but for other countries. They wanted to ensure that freedom lived; it was freedom for us, it was freedom for other countries and now generations later, millions of people live in freedom because of what they did, what the greatest generation did,” Moore, a retired U.S. Marine, said as he opened the program.
Graziano, formerly of East Aurora, New York, recalled his myriad of experiences in his book, A Patriot’s Memoirs of World War II, a book that he wrote for his children. A veteran of the US Army, he landed with the third wave on D-Day on Omaha Beach, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and witnessed the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Graziano, who is the last survivor to witness the German surrender, told the audience to read the book to further learn about his military life in the European theater. He also elaborated on landing on Omaha Beach.
“I drove a gasoline truck off the LST [landing ship tank] onto the shore. Then I jumped out of it and got my machine gun and other equipment. I laid down with dead soldiers on the beach and I creeped up toward the cliff. The Germans were shooting down at us. When I got to the cliff, I got my flamethrower. I shot up underneath the bunker. It lit up the grass and brush and with all that on fire, the Germans had to get out of it. Then I shot my flare gun up in the sky. I figured the Navy would see it. They shot from their ships and knocked out the bunker. They knew what I wanted. They were shooting over our heads and giving us protection,” Graziano recalled.
He spoke about meeting his future wife, Eula “Bobbie” Shaneyfelt, while she played softball. The Alabama native served in the Women’s Army Corp in Reims, France during WWII as a Physical Education Instructor. They dated, married and were united for 62 years before she died in 2007. The Grazianos moved to Thomson in 1956. He also recalled the brief stint he had using his hair stylist and barber profession to groom soldiers.
Price, who is a realtor, joined the Army at 19 years old in 1945. He was sent the Asiatic Pacific with the Sixth Infantry Division and served as Tech-5 supply clerk.
Price said the closest he ever came to being killed was when World War II was over. He was aboard a ship leaving the Philippines and the ship narrowly missed a floating mine.
The veteran told the gathering that he never saw Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii but the damage to the harbor in Manila suffered the same devastation in the war. “It was loaded with ships that were sunken and several planes were nose down in the water.”
As Graziano and Price talked about places they had been, veterans in the room interjected that they too had been to those places. Those men shared memories of various locations. Sometimes, the memories brought tears to their eyes.
“There were a lot of experiences that today we have a hard time comprehending what they did in World War,” Moore said. “They risked a lot to make sure that we have a good life ahead.”
There were shouts of “Thank You for your service” and “We appreciate your service” and “Praise the Lord that you are here today” to Graziano and Price.
“I give the Good Lord credit for my whole life,” Price said. “I came through with scratches and bruises and my body functions,” he said.