Nearly 69 years have passed since Mays Landing resident Peter Fantacone took part in the Allied Forces' invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day.
The U.S. Navy veteran's memories of the day have long since begun to fade, even as he has tried to keep them fresh. But while they grow more distant by the day, every once in a while Fantacone is thrust back.
"I still remember going over there (to Normandy), I'm feeling seasick, and these fumes are going, you know. I smell the diesel fumes," Fantacone said. "Today, if a bus goes by or a truck goes by and I smell diesel fumes, it brings me back to Normandy, it brings that back."
On May 31, Peter Fantacone will revisit his experiences on D-Day in a presentation sponsored by the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society. The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. at the Egg Harbor Township Community Center.
Fantacone served as a radio man aboard the USS LCI 492, which was part of a Coast Guard flotilla that ferried servicemen to Omaha Beach. He gave his first talk on the operation about a decade ago at a D-Day veterans' reunion in Bedford, Va. When he returned to New Jersey, he was asked to speak at a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Atlantic City, and in the years since, he has spoken dozens of times to various groups.
While the historical society is active in bringing in historians or specialists to speak to the community, this time, it was Fantacone who reached out to them. Member Dan Lawless, who organized the talk, said Fantacone's getting in touch with the group was fortuitous.
"You don't get a chance to talk to somebody that actually took part in a historical event (often,)" Lawless said. "We're losing more and more of our World War II veterans all the time."
Fantacone was just 18 years old and freshly graduated from radio school when he was whisked overseas from Bayonne, N.J., to join a growing American presence in England. While he had taken part in many amphibious landing drills and heard rumblings of a grand operation, Fantacone knew little of what was to come when he arrived in Europe in mid-May 1944.
When the force received the call to assemble on the evening of June 5, Fantacone recalls, his Coast Guard colleagues aboard LCI 492, who had been in port longer, wrote it off as a training exercise. But when a priest was called to give absolution to the assembled servicemen, they knew what was to come.
As a radio operator, Fantacone did not himself storm Omaha Beach on foot. But he was not far from the action in his ship, which landed on the shore. His view was obstructed by a bulkhead, but nonetheless, he has vivid recollections of the carnage.
The story of the heroic men and women who sacrificed so much in World War II is an important one to tell - and now, nearly 70 years later, it's a story of which few firsthand accounts remain. Fantacone is one of a handful remaining who can tell it, and he has made a promise to his fallen comrades to do so as long as he's able.
"I made it my mission to try to keep alive the memory of all those who died on D-Day, on that beach," Fantacone said. "That's the gist of the whole thing. We want to keep alive the memory."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
D-Day presentation by Peter Fantacone.
7 p.m. May 31
Egg Harbor Township Community Center, 5045 English Creek Ave.
Call 609-813-2002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.