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CAPE MAY, N.J. – A World War II veteran who participated in the invasion of Normandy during D-Day recounted his experiences June 6 with recruits and staff aboard Coast Guard Training Center Cape May.
Mr. Peter Fantacone, 86, of Mays Landing, N.J., was a U.S. Navy sailor serving in Coast Guard Flotilla 4/10 aboard one of 18 landing craft infantry ships, or LCIs. Twelve of the 18 LCIs in Fantacone’s Flotilla 4/10 were run by all Coast Guard crews and landed troops on the infamous Omaha Beach. Fantacone still travels throughout the region telling the story of the D-Day invasion.
“I’ve been trying to keep alive the memory of all those who died at D-Day,” said Fantacone. “It may seem like I made my speech up just for the Coast Guard, but D-Day was one of the bloodiest days in Coast Guard history.”
The World War II veteran spoke sharply and clearly about his experiences 68-years ago, and he left out no details as he told recruits about the rising tide at Omaha Beach washing over the bodies of dead and injured at Omaha Beach.
The recruits from Coast Guard companies Quebec 186 and Sierra 186 listened intently as Fantacone recounted watching Coast Guard LCIs 85 and 91 sink killing many of the soldiers, sailors and Coast Guardsmen aboard the ship.
Fantacone vividly described seeing troops being ripped apart by German gunfire as they exited the LCIs, and he said the allied forces’ retaliation to a German air offense looked like 1,000 firework shows lighting up the night sky. The sailor recalled seeing the blood of crew members and troops washing off the deck of Coast Guard LCI 85 just before the injured were unloaded on to a nearby transport and the ship sank.
The former sailor also remembered the successes and triumphs of D-Day. Just 12 hours after Fantacone attended what he thought might be his last Catholic Mass, the troops had a strong hold on the beach, and the Coast Guard Matchbox Fleet had rescued more than 400 people.
All of the crewmembers aboard Fantacone’s LCI 492 survived D-Day; however, only three of the men are still alive to tell the story of D-Day. The staff at Training Center Cape May want to ensure the recruits here can carry on Fantacone’s legacy.
“The heroes form World War II are not going to be with us much longer and able to provide us opportunities like this,” said Capt. Bill Kelly, Training Center Cape May’s commanding officer. “These (recruits) are the folks who are going to take up the watch, so to meet someone who actually stood the watch on D-Day, is an outstanding opportunity for them.”
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