DULUTH — Minutes before the referee dropped the ball to start a big game between the Philadelphia Wings and Georgia Swarm on Sunday at Infinite Energy Arena, another man participated in his own face-off with the two captains.
The 97-year-old Luciano “Louis” Graziano performed the ceremonial opening face-off, receiving a standing ovation from the home crowd of 8,662 fans as he entered the field.
Graziano currently lives in Thomson, and is the last living eyewitness of the official German surrender at Reims, France that ended the European Conflict in World War II.
Graziano was in the concourse meeting fans and signing copies of his book “A Patriot’s Memoirs of World War II — Through my Eyes, Heart and Soul” before the game, and he also delivered a speech in the Swarm locker room before the game.
“It’s great to be honored to come over here and tell them some of my experiences,” Graziano said. “They can read all about that in my book I wrote.”
He was in attendance Sunday as part of the Georgia Swarm’s Heroes Night, something the Swarm have done all five years they have been in Georgia.
“It’s an opportunity for us to not only recognize the local first responders you know in Gwinnett County and in some cases metro Atlanta,” Swarm vice president of marketing and communications Dan Levak said. “But (Swarm owner and general manager and co-owner and president) John and Andy Arlotta really try to go big when it comes to honoring heroes and the military.”
Graziano served from January of 1943 to January of 1946, and was part of both the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. But he has been doing some very different work back Thomson since he left the service.
“I was a hair stylist before I went into the service,” Graziano said. “Then when I came out, I went back to hair styling. I’m still working. Some of my old customers won’t turn me loose. They don’t want me to quit. They call me on my cell phone at my house, trying to meet me at the shop. I’ve been there since 1956.”
When it came time to write about his life and his experiences, it was actually Graziano’s family that helped give him a push. In fact, he credits his two children with the book itself, helping him both with getting the idea off the ground and actually putting it together.
“I wrote the book for my children,” Graziano said. “I didn’t know all of this would happen. They wanted to know all my war experiences. They kept talking about it, and finally I decided I would go ahead and do it. My daughter, she typed up the stuff for me.”
Graziano has traveled to different places and events since releasing his book, and he was even honored at the White House last October.
“That was real good,” Graziano said. “That was the first time I went to the White House. I’m going back at the end of May I think.”
Graziano’s work with veterans and sharing his story in the community is exactly what the Swarm want to promote on Heroes Night, and having him at Sunday’s game was a focal point of the event.
“Louis Graziano has been kind of the centerpiece of our evening,” Levak said. “It’s a tremendous honor to have him out here. He played some key roles in the Battle of the Bulge, was extremely heroic on Normandy Beach and really the capstone, to have the last living eyewitness to see the signing of the treaty that ended the European conflict, that was key. We really wanted to get Louis out here, and we’re honored to have him.”