OMAHA BEACH, France – This week, hundreds of thousands of tourists are descending on the Normandy coast of France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Toni Pape of Longmont is among them.
She traveled 4,729 miles from her home in Colorado to visit the place where her father, Clarence Paul Zancanella, once served. But her long journey is nothing compared to the journey her father spelled out in his letters home from World War II.
“We would go so close to the German lines that you couldn’t say a word unless you wanted a bullet for breakfast,” Pape told FOX31, reading one of her father’s old letters.
“I can feel the homesick in the letters. That’s part of what it was. They’ll write about anything and they can’t wait to get a letter because they’re so homesick,” she said.
Zancanella was hardly alone. This week, FOX31 is visiting Europe with a group of D-Day veterans who have similar stories to tell. The veterans are part of a program by a Denver-based charity called The Greatest Generations Foundation. The organization has returned thousands of World War II and Vietnam veterans to the battlefields where they once served.
Zancanella was a young man when he came ashore at Omaha Beach after D-Day. He fought his way through Europe, watching his friends die in the Battle of the Bulge, when his gun took a direct hit. Everyone around him was killed.
“His dead buddy’s head was in his lap, still in his helmet. And talking to (Zancanella’s) brothers after the war, he was never the same. And you know the whole experience was very, very hard on him,” said Kevin Pape, Toni’s husband.
Zancanella died 28 years ago. He left behind a scrapbook, filling in the details of his World War II history.
“He put this together for me and my kids so that we would be able to see where they went,” Toni said.
This week’s trip to Omaha Beach and the other places served in Europe, helps complete the story for his daughter.
“So I thought when we had the opportunity to go over to France and retrace the steps that Clarence took, that would be a really neat thing to do,” Kevin said.
It is a journey 4,729 miles in the making, 75 years after her father made the trek.
“We’re a military family anyway, so just being able to go to where World War II was is really pretty special. I have to admit, I’m really proud of the USA and I know a lot of that comes from my dad,” Toni said.