US WWII Veteran Who Witnessed German Surrender: 'It Took Them 5 Minutes to Sign'
22:39 GMT 12.02.2022 (Updated: 09:22 GMT 18.11.2022)
© Sputnik / Владимир Гребнев / Go to the mediabankCaptured German soldiers and officers in the closing days of World War II in Europe. May 3, 1945.
© Sputnik / Владимир Гребнев/
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - US WWll veteran Louis Graziano shared with Sputnik how he helped prepare the room for the formal signing of the unconditional surrender by Nazi Germany on May 7, 1945, which he said only took five minutes.
February 11 marked 77 years since the end of the historic Yalta Conference, where Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss the post-war world architecture. The meeting between the Allied leaders was held at the Black Sea coastal resort in the city of Yalta, also known as the Crimea Conference. The conference was also hosted by the Soviet Union in its Crimean palaces Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov.
The 1945 Yalta Conference is thought of as being among the three most important wartime summits among states that defeated the Nazis, along with the 1943 Tehran conference and 1945 Potsdam conference. In Yalta, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin gathered to talk post-war reorganization of the nations liberated from Nazi rule and collective security that would ensure sustainable peace.
"I was in charge of the buildings in Reims, France. The Little Red Schoolhouse in Reims is where the surrender took place. It was my job to set up the war room in the schoolhouse putting out name cards for all the officials who were coming in to sign. There were the Frenchmen there, the Germans and the British, and the Russians and the Americans," Graziano said. "It took them five minutes to sign the surrender."
Nazi Germany Formal Surrender
Graziano noted that he learned about three to four days prior that they were bringing the Germans in. "Actually, we did not know it was going to happen, but it did," he said.
When getting the room ready, the veteran recalled, it felt really good knowing that he was going to be there to witness the signing. He also knew that with the signing, all of them would be going home soon. It was about 2:41 in the morning when the historic signing took place, the veteran recalled.
The veteran said Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander in Europe, did not want to be in the room at the time of the signing in case the Germans backed out. He was two rooms up from there waiting to see if they were really going to sign.
After the signing, Graziano took German general Alfred Jodl and a translator to Eisenhower’s room. Eisenhower asked them if they were satisfied with everything and they replied, "Yes." They then clicked their heels, turned around and walked out. Graziano said, "after the Germans left we all celebrated."
Graziano worked as a hairstylist before he was drafted - he was twenty at the time. He was ordered to report to Fort Niagara, New York, and then onto Camp Hood in Texas for training.
The veteran went through 20 weeks of combat training and from there, he was sent to Camp Shanks in Orangetown, New York, for four more weeks before they sent him to Fort Dix in New Jersey. While he was at Fort Dix, he went into the city and made a record for his father and told recorded everything they were going to do to Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini when they got there.
"Everything I told him came true," Graziano said.
He later learned that his father had played that record everyday.
Graziano said he was in the third wave that landed on Omaha Beach in France on June 6, 1944.
"We had to do what we had to do, I did what I had to do. I can’t say I was afraid or anything. I just went there to fight," he said. "We just got in there and had to fight. We didn’t have to think about it or be scared."
Following their landing, they fought their way to Saint-Lo commune, which took them 43 days. After that, they kept marching until they got to Reims, France.
At that time, Reims hosted the headquarters of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, and Graziano was put in charge of the utilities and getting stuff for the men in the camp. Graziano was also in the Battle of the Bulge. In December 1944, he was still in Reims when his commander ordered him to go find General George Patton’s troops who got lost.
"We had to go find them and take them to Bastogne," he said. "We found them between Reims and Metz. We had to fight our way to Bastogne. I got frozen feet on that assignment. When we got back to Reims, I had to go to the hospital to see about my feet. They were severely frostbitten. I had to stay in the hospital for two to three weeks. They finally told me I could be discharged because I kept wanting to get back with my men. I had to wear two pairs of socks that were bigger than my feet."
Graziano continued to say that during his time in Reims, he managed to build a mess hall from German prefabricated houses. The veteran then asked for German prisoners and two guards that could speak German and English, and got it finished in three weeks.
"I got that mess hall built, and then the General put me in charge of the whole city of Reims, France, for the buildings that the troops occupied. Then I built an open air theater for the men, I built it on the hill and put seats up the hill for them," he added.
Love of His Life
Graziano said he got married in Reims and honeymooned in Paris, France.
"It was love at first sight and we were together for 62 years before she passed," Graziano said of his wife, Bobbie, whom he met through friends.
They got married in October and headed home in December to start a life together in America.
"She left the day before I did. She had to go back with the ladies," Graziano said. "I got home on Christmas Day. I figured Bobbie would get there a day or so before I would, but she didn’t. I learned later her ship had problems and another ship had to pick up the ladies. It took 30 days for her to get there."
"I was supposed to land in New Jersey. But the storm was so bad and they had to change course and we landed in Virginia. The general said that we had to wait two weeks before we could get someone to take our group to New Jersey. I told the general that I could take them. I am from around there. So, I got home on Christmas," he said.
Graziano just turned 99 years old on February 6. He said that upon returning to the United States, he went back to doing hairstyling. His sister still kept the beauty shop going so he could go back to work. Having been a hairstylist since 1939, Graziano still works occasionally. Moreover, the veteran does some work at the church, where he is in charge of all the utilities. But most importantly, he now enjoys his time with his dog and his family.