Written by Joe Rizza Thursday, 18 June 2009 10:45
There are certain days in American history in which a mere mention of the date is enough to imply the importance of an event. One of those days is June 6, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day. On June 6, 65 years ago, Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. Two of the men who were involved in the operation lived in Mineola — Ray Vaz and John DaVanzo.
On June 6, 1944, Vaz, who lives on Hampton Street with his wife Ann, was serving the United States Army’s 359th Infantry unit of the 90th Division. In the morning, he landed with his fellow soldiers on the Utah sector of Normandy beach.
The landing craft Vaz was on stopped short of the beach because of artillery fire. Carrying his equipment, Vaz entered the water and drove forward toward the beach. “We thought we were in a movie. It turned out to be a little different,” Vaz told the Mineola American in 2004.
On the second day of the invasion, Vaz was shot in the leg. He spent a month in a British hospital before returning to action on July 31. Troops advanced further into France and eventually into Germany, encountering danger along the way. At one point, Vaz was knocked out by artillery fire and woke up to find his rifle cut in half and shrapnel in his right arm.
His unit even helped to liberate Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. It was such a horrible scene, Vaz couldn’t even enter the camp.
“At that age, you don’t realize you could die, but I tell you, after the first day I was there, it was completely different,” he said.
Thankfully, Vaz made it home to Mineola, where he lived since he was a baby. He married Ann and the couple had three children – Anthony, Carol and Sue.
DaVanzo was serving in the United States Navy at the time and recovering from an operation from appendicitis. A radio man, DaVanzo was stationed on the USS Glennon, which was providing support for the troops advancing in France. However, on the morning of June 8, the Glennon struck a mine. During efforts to salvage the ship, the Glennon took fire from a German shore battery and then finally sunk on June 10. A total of 25 men died and 38 more were wounded.
DaVanzo and the other survivors were brought to Scotland. He eventually returned home to Mineola. He currently lives in the Birchwood Court complex and is active in many organizations including the fire department and Kiwanis.
The veterans of Mineola have two organizations – the American Legion Mineola Memorial Post #349 and Veteran of Foreign Wars Private Adolph Block Post #1305. These two organizations try their best to make sure the stories and lessons of those who served are not forgotten.