The D-Day Invasion of Normandy is often considered one of the most defining and extraordinarily heroic episodes in American history.
For many, such a herculean feat and the notion of soldiers storming a beach amidst a barrage of gunfire is simply unfathomable, and only realized through the magic of movies or the black-and-white pictures of history books.
But for one Jamestown native, the invasion of June 6, 1944, was something much more than an old photograph. It was a reality. And this summer, he’s heading back to where it all happened.
Ninety-four-year-old Tony Costanzo was recently selected by state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, to return to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.
Costanzo is one of 14 D-Day veterans from around the country who will meet in Detroit and fly in a nonstop, all-expenses-paid trip to France on June 2 for the June 6 ceremony.
“He’s like a little kid at Christmas,” said Joe Costanzo, Tony’s son. “He’s so excited to go back there to see where they were and where they fought.”
Indeed, Tony Costanzo not only fought in the D-Day Invasion, but was part of the first wave of American forces to storm Omaha Beach – a result of him being a part of the Army’s First Infantry Division, the “Big Red One.”
An indication of how significant a role Costanzo and his fellow veterans played will be the attendance of President Obama and French President Francois Hollande at the ceremony.
In addition, Forever Young Senior Wish, a Tennessee-based foundation that reaches out and grants wishes to senior citizens, has recommended the names of all 14 veterans for the Legion of Honor, France’s most distinguished decoration.
“This is great … veterans give so much to their country,” Joe Costanzo said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much they give up so we can live in a country that has (the freedoms that we do).”
Joe Costanzo’s daughter, Meaghan, and his niece, Danielle Lowe, will be accompanying their grandfather on the trip to France. Joe is grateful to several members of the community who pitched in and donated money to help pay for his daughter’s trip.
“It’s fantastic (how the community helped us out) … it’s so wonderful,” Joe Costanzo said. “My dad has been healthy all these years and to make it through the war and now get the chance to go back to Normandy, it’s something else.”
Tony Costanzo joined the Army 11 months prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War II.
After completing basic training at Fort Jay in New York City, he was sent to North Africa, as part of “Operation Torch,” the first American ground campaign against Germany. In May 1943, Costanzo’s unit moved on to take Sicily as part of “Operation Husky.”
After Normandy, he was assigned back to Italy – due to his fluency in Italian – where he served as a military police officer until the end of the war.
Costanzo achieved the rank of corporal and was awarded several awards, including three Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre.
He returned to Jamestown and worked at Union National, a local furniture shop, for 40 years before retiring.
“My dad has seen a lot of things,” Joe Costanzo mused. “This (trip) is a big thing for him. He can’t wait to go back.”