Well wishers greet Luciano "Louis" Charles Graziano on Feb. 4, 2023. The World War II veteran turned 100 on Feb. 6. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News
Well wishers greet Luciano "Louis" Charles Graziano on Feb. 4, 2023. The World War II veteran turned 100 on Feb. 6. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

D-Day at 80: Thomson resident took part in the invasion

While it’s a history lesson for most, one area resident took part in the D-Day invasion, which marks its 80th anniversary June 6, 2024.

 Thomson’s Luciano “Louis” Charles Graziano, 101, fought at Omaha Beach and is likely the only remaining witness to the Germans’ signing of the instrument of surrender at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Reims, France in May 1945.

Louis and Bobbie Graziano. Photo courtesy Facebook

How he got there is chronicled in his 2018 book “A Patriot’s Memoirs of World War II: Through My Eyes, Heart, and Soul,” which is available on Amazon or get a signed copy at louisgraziano.com.

The son of Italian immigrants who settled in New York, Graziano was cutting and styling hair when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. In 1943, Uncle Sam came calling, and Graziano answered, heading to Fort Niagara, N.Y., where he was told to shave his mustache — “or else.”

“I didn’t know what ‘or else’ was, so I shaved it,” said Graziano, in a 2021 interview.

Before he left, he made a recording for his father.

 “I told him everything we were going to do to Mussolini, and everything happened just like I said. He played that record every day I was gone,” he said.

His first stop overseas was at England’s Camp Weston, where he spent 18 months. While there, he oversaw 35 soldiers who built roads, Nissen huts and a theater among other things. He also kept up with his barbering. When the unit’s regular barber got sick, Graziano filled in. His first customer was the headquarters’ commander.

The operations in England were ramping up to D-Day. Graziano’s job was to drive a tanker onto Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. But it wasn’t as simple as driving .

“The Germans were up shooting down on us. I took a flame thrower and got rid of the machine guns,” he said.

Once the machine guns were out of the way, he sent up a flair for the Navy.

Louis Graziano with Col. Reggie Evans, Fort Eisenhower garrison commander in 2023. Photo credit Anne Bowman, Fort Eisenhower Public Affairs

He also was part of the Battle of the Bulge from December 1944 to January 1945 with its brutal conditions.

Graziano served in France in 1945 and oversaw buildings in Reims including one building that came to be known as the “Little Red Schoolhouse.” He was in charge of setting up the room for a very important date — May 7, 1945 — the day the Germans signed the instrument of surrender in Reims.

 He remembered the somber faces of the Germans that day.

 Graziano would stay in France another 19 months until Christmas 1946. It was during that time that he met his wife, Bobbie, who was a staff sergeant in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.

He asked her out, but she stood him up for their first date. He wasn’t bothered, and he asked again. She showed up for the second date. They married on Oct. 2, 1945.

The Alabama native didn’t want to live anywhere that had snow when they returned to the states. So, Louis Graziano answered an ad for a barber position in Thomson, where the couple settled and raised their five children. He would put his building skills to use in Thomson and construct his own shop, Louis Hair Styling Salon, where he cut generations of hair.

Graziano’s book cover

Bobbie Graziano died on her husband’s 84th birthday — Feb. 6, 2007.

In honor of his 100th birthday, the city of Thomson held a parade and hosted a reception at the Thomson-McDuffie Library.

“It’s great to have so many people here,” said the World War II veteran on Feb. 4, 2023. He took photos with those attending, shook hands and collected birthday cards.

 His daughter, Kim Evans, had issued a call for well-wishes, and people listened. A few thousand poured in in from all across the country and world.

His family didn’t know much about his World War II service until Evans, noticed a box of notes her father had kept over the years. Those notes became his 2018 memoir. At the birthday event, Terry Evans said his father-in-law never opened up much about his service unless he was around other veterans. Evans said learned more at book signings and other events Graziano has been asked to speak at than he did in conversations with his father-in-law.

At that event, Kim Evans said her father had been invited to the 75th anniversary of Normandy, but he declined; he just didn’t want to go back there.

He still continues to attend event, recently appearing at the April Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, Mo.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for more than 35 years. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

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