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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Remembering D-Day

June 6, 1944

65 years ago today

My grandpa, Nick Fontana, landed on Utah Beach. He fought he way up the beach and over the seawall ...
finally making it to relative safety. Three days into the battle his best friend, Joe Tofinchio, was killed. (If you are a long-time reader of mine, you may recall that I've written about my successful search for Joe's family before.)

Grandpa had several close calls over the next few days. One that he's told me about many times is this: He poked his head up to get a look around and suddenly recalled one of his commanders drilling the men about keeping their helmets pulled down in the front at all times. He immediately pulled his helmet into the correct position and just at that second a sniper's shot bounced of his helmet. Had he not adjusted it when he did, that shot would have gone through the center of the forehead.

Just under three weeks into the Allied advance, Grandpa's unit was approaching the town of St. Lo. Suddenly a German grenade landed nearby. All the men ran and dove for cover. But do to an ankle injury he received jumping over a hedgerow a few days before, Grandpa couldn't get away quickly enough; the blast from the grenade knocked him flat and threw shards of shrapnel into his legs.

His injuries were severe enough that he was evacuated to Coventry, England to recuperate. It was there that he met my Grandma, Eileen Hunt. She was a gorgeous English/Irish redhead who did war work in a local factory. The photo to the left was taken in 1946 and given from Nick to Eileen, with a note on the back expressing his love. The rest, as they say, is history (or at least, the rest is a story for another day).

Nick & Eileen Fontana
met in 1944
happily married since 1947
photo from November 2008


Dreamybee said...

Wow, I bet that sniper incident shook your grandpa up ! Then again, I suppose being on the front lines like that is enough to shake anybody up for a good long while. Sad that your grandpa was so badly injured, but it seems to have worked out for the best! I hope his injuries don't still bother him.

Your grandparents' timeline is pretty close to my grandparents'. I'm not sure exactly when they met-probably '44 or '45-and they were married in '46.

Love your story about finding the family of your grandpa's friend!

Alyce said...

Thanks for sharing your grandfather's war story, and how he met your grandmother. I love reading stories like these! My grandpa was in the Pacific theater, but didn't meet my grandmother until after the war.

bermudaonion said...

What a fabulous story. Thanks for sharing it with us. Thanks also for the reminder of the sacrifices soldiers and their families have made for us through the years.

violetcrush said...

Thanks for sharing this with us and for the beautifully written post. I liked reading about your grandfather's story. And those are some really amazing photos.

Rebecca :) said...

Such a lovely, beautifully written story about your grandfather, Heather.

My grandfather was not at Normandy on D-Day, but did arrive I believe the day after. From what I understand, his entire unit was killed, except for him. He never told us that, but my great uncle told my mother the story a couple of years ago. My grandfather saw a lot of horrible things happen in that war and in Korea, but I am glad that I got the chance to know him.

Heather J. said...

Thanks all of you for commenting. My grandparents story is a favorite of mine and I'm glad to share it whenever I can.

Anna said...

What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing.

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I wanted to let you know that I've linked to this story at the war blog.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great photos and a great story! Thanks for posting.

For you WWII buffs out there such as yours truly, I got a free chapter of a book about Gen. Omar Bradley the other day. It's really interesting so far. Here's the link if you wanna check it out-

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