UTAH BEACH, France - Ralph Ticciucci, a 93-year-old World War II veteran and survivor of the D-Day invasions, returned to the Norman coast for his second visit, 72 years later.
Ticcioni, a native of Milwaukee, Wisc, was, on June 6, 1944, a radio control operator and paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He jumped into Normandy originally by way of C-47 but returned this time with assistance from the Friends of American veterans association in Normandy, a French organization that facilitates the return of veterans.
"I've talked some of the guys here from the 82nd (currently serving Soldiers), one of their questions I heard a few times was, were you scared," said Ticcioni. "Yes of course I was scared. We all were. But once you get into the action, your adrenaline takes over, your training comes into being, and I'm just one of the lucky ones who survived."
Ticcioni made the trip not only with help from various veterans associations but particularly with a push from his own doctor.
"I used to be his surgeon, now I'm just his friend," Dr. Ed Smith said. "A number of years ago I operated on him and when he came back in for a check up I asked him if he had been on an honor flight in the U.S. and he had not. I helped him fill out an application, and he asked me to join him on the trip."
Honor flights are part of a network of non-profit organizations which host and fly U.S. veterans to Washington D.C. to see the memorials dedicated to the war or conflict the individuals fought in.
"We went out together to Washington D.C. to the World War II memorial," said Smith. "After that, he (Ticcioni) was approached by the honor flight hub in Milwaukee… and asked to receive a card from one of the school children here in Normandy. That was promoted by the AVA here in Normandy. … The AVA, in the process of sending the card, enquired about him traveling here. He was willing but needed someone to travel with him, so he gave me a call."
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