Area veterans return to familiar battlefiel

Dan Bananzio, of Wildwood, traveled to Normandy to revisit the D-Day battlefield where he fought in 1944.

Dan Bananzio returned to the D-Day battlefield Thursday, getting a chance to see where he had served 75 years before.

Bananzio, who lives in an independent living center in Wildwood, traveled to Normandy with his son-in-law, Henry de Jong, of the Village of Poinciana.

In 1944, Bananzio came ashore in Normandy two days after the initial landings and drove supplies to the front for the rest of the war.

During the ceremonies Thursday, Bananzio was seated in the second row of veterans at the back of the stage where U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke about the men who participated in the landings, in many cases sacrificing their lives for future generations.

“I sat down and listened to everybody,” Bananzio said. “They made me feel real good.”

After the speeches, Macron took the time to shake Bananzio’s hand.

Before he left for France, Bananzio told the Daily Sun that his most vivid memory was seeing the church in Sainte-Mère-Église with parachutes hanging from the roof. Members of the 82nd Airborne Division landed in the town on the morning of D-Day, many of them killed by the Germans in the town. One of the jumpers, John Steele, had his parachute caught on the church’s roof. As was portrayed in the movie “The Longest Day,” Steele played dead so he wouldn’t

be shot.

The church is still there and has a replica soldier and parachute on its roof. Bananzio returned to Sainte-Mère-Église this week and visited the church. “I went in and lit a candle for my children,” he said.

Bananzio said he also was amazed that many of the buildings in Normandy still have bullet holes from the battles that were fought in their midst.

The veterans were treated like movie stars by the French, De Jong said. The men were asked for autographs and photos by those in the large crowds. It was a French organization that helped pay for Bananzio’s trip to Normandy.

Irving Locker, of the Village Santiago, was also present at the ceremonies Thursday. Locker landed on Utah Beach on D-Day with his unit, the 116th AAA gun battalion. He often gives talks in The Villages and elsewhere, keeping the memories of that Day of Days alive.

Locker, who also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was honored in February as Trump’s guest at the State of the Union address. On Thursday, he got Trump’s attention after the speeches when he held up a picture of the two taken in the Oval Office when Locker was in Washington for the address.

Locker also was present in Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Steve Straehley is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or steve.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.