WOONSOCKET – “It was like hell” is the memory Richard Fazzio has carried with him since June 6, 1944.
That day 77 years ago, D-Day, the then-teenager was piloting a landing craft that landed soldiers at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, as Allied forces began their push to put end of World War II. The Germans were merciless with their fire.
Nearly three dozen Americans from the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division who were in the Fazzio landing craft were killed. Fazzio, now 96, was shot in the side. Back on the transport ship, he almost died.
But he was there on Sunday, along with a handful of other World War II veterans, to observe the dedication of a memorial in their honor, as well as the civilian workers who supported soldiers overseas. The event, which attracted hundreds of people, was funded by the Heritage Harbor Foundation and sponsored by the American Legion Fairmount Post 85.
Speaking to the Journal before the ceremony, Fazzio, who recovered from his injury and participated in the invasion of southern France in August 1944, recalled the sleepless night before D-Day.
“I prayed to God”
âI still remember today lying in my bunk and all I thought about was my mom and dad at home and my sisters,â he said. “I prayed to God not to let my mother receive one of these telegrams” which were used in those ancient times to inform relatives of the deaths and injuries of servicemen stationed abroad.
âI guess he was too busy and didn’t listen to me,â Fazzio said. âShe had two. One, that my brother was killed in the Philippines. And she got mine, that I had been hurt.
Tim Gray, Emmy Award-winning documentary maker and founder and president of the World War II Foundation, accompanied Fazzio to Sunday’s ceremony. Fazzio has appeared in several Gray films, and 15 years ago the two returned to Omaha Beach with other veterans. Fazzio hadn’t been there since D-Day.
âWhat struck him was how beautiful the beach is today compared to what he saw that day in 1944,â said Gray.
âIt was like God blessed the place,â Fazzio said. âIt was peaceful, beautiful. But it brought back bad memories, however.
But better ones have been created, Fazzio and Gray said, with the welcome veterans received from the French they encountered.
âThey approached Richard and the other veterans at the Normandy Cemetery and were so honored that they were actually meeting some living D-Day veterans,â Gray said. âThe kids were absolutely amazing. They kissed the veterans on the cheek and they asked them questions and they were French schoolchildren.
Fazzio said: âThey were fantastic. God, that was awesome. The French treated us like royalty.
Sen. Jack Reed, Governor Dan McKee, Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Kasim Yarn, director of the Rhode Island Veterans Office, were among those responsible for Sunday’s ceremony.
Said Reed, an Army veteran: âThis dedication is a great recognition for the men and women who answered a nation’s call during World War II. Time and time again our country and the values ââand ideals upon which it is founded have been tested on the battlefield – and each time the men and women charged with defending our nation have risen to the challenge.
McKee said, âI am so proud to see this new memorial here today and I hope Rhode Islanders young and old will come and pay their respects. It is as much an education as it is honoring and remembering those who served him. Our job, our duty, is to make sure that we never forget.
The son of Italian immigrants, Fazzio was born and raised in Woonsocket and still lives there after a career with Pratt & Whitney and the town of Woonsocket. In his interview, he said his mother was not the same after losing a son.
Unsurprisingly, Fazzio’s war experiences changed him as well.
Although his D-Day eve prayer was not answered, the nearly 100-year-old Catholic man witnessed what might be called a miracle: He survived a day of hell during from which, according to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, at least 4,414 Allied soldiers perished, including at least 2,501 Americans.
âThat day made me religious, believe me,â he said. “To this day, I thank Almighty God for being successful.”