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Last witness to WWII surrender coming home to share his story

If you want to know what it was like to be in the room when World War II formally ended in Europe, East Aurora native Luciano “Louis” C. Graziano will be in town later this month to share what happened.

The 96-year-old, who resides in Georgia, is believed to be the last living witness to see the German commanders sign the Instrument of Surrender. That historic moment is one of the highlights in his book, “A Patriot’s Memoirs of World War II.”

Graziano’s “Author Talk” is set for 2:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library’s Central Branch in downtown Buffalo.

“I didn’t write the book for all of this to happen. I wrote it for my family,” said Graziano, who has outlived the 59 other people who were present for the historic moment as German officers surrendered in the Little Red Schoolhouse in Reims, France, on May 7, 1945.

He says he is honored to tell others what it was like to be there, though at 22 years old, he did not entirely grasp the significance of what was happening.

“I was standing behind a group of 16 reporters from different news organizations. They were behind the table where the Germans were signing the Instrument of Surrender,” Graziano said.

As the master sergeant in charge of an Army unit that oversaw maintenance of buildings occupied by the Americans in Reims, Graziano said, his job allowed him to be in the war room, where the signing occurred.

Those who attend Graziano's talk will also receive an eyewitness account from him on what it was like to be part of the biggest amphibious invasion in history when Allied Forces charged onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Part of the third wave soldiers to land at Omaha Beach, Graziano said he took cover beside the bodies of dead troops. From a cliff bunker, German machine gunners were shooting down at the invaders.

“When I got to the cliff, I got my flame thrower. I shot up underneath the bunker. It lit up the grass and brush, and with all that on fire, the Germans had to get out of it," he said. After sending up a signal with his flare gun, he said, Navy ships finished the job by shelling the bunker.

Since his book was published earlier this year by LifeRich Publishing, Graziano has spoken at different venues around the country. One of the biggest was the 75th anniversary celebration of  D-Day last June at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan.

After speaking, Graziano presented an autographed copy of his book to Mary Jean Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Eisenhower, who in WWII had served as the supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe.

When Graziano speaks at the library's Central Branch, Talking Leaves Books will sponsor a book table selling autographed copies of his memoirs.

Of his upcoming trip back to Western New York, Graziano says he is looking forward to spending time in East Aurora visiting with relatives who still livethere.

Kim Evans, one of Graziano’s daughters, said that she has been contacted by veterans in East Aurora who are in the process of planning a "hometown hero's welcome" for her father.

“It’s been years since he has been to home to East Aurora, and all of this just gives me chills,” Evans said. “I’m very proud of him. He says he doesn't feel like he’s a hero, but he is.”

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