Family and friends will remember World War II soldier and French Legion of Honor medal recipient Gaetano “Guy” R. Benza during a funeral service Tuesday at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
He died Aug. 30 after a bout with bone cancer. He was 91.
“He was a walking storybook slash legend,” said his youngest son, Tommy Benza. “He had the charisma to walk into a room and command everybody’s attention. He was a small stature of a man but he had the heart of kingdom.”
Gaetano Raymond Benza was born March 7, 1925, in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from high school he was drafted into the Army in 1943.
As an Army private on an amphibious supply craft, he landed on the second day of the assault on Omaha Beach during the 1944 D-Day invasion of France’s Normandy coast.
“They would shoot through the air and (flak) would spatter. That’s why you wore that steel helmet. I could hear many times when it would hit my helmet and go, ‘boom, bang,’ ” he recalled about the fire from Germany’s big 88mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery guns for a 70th anniversary story about the invasion.
He returned to Normandy in 2014 for the 70th anniversary event with Tommy. They visited World War II landmarks with 23 other veterans.
“He was very fortunate to live through one of the most horrific battles there was. Because of that we’re able to be here and keep his stories alive,” the younger Benza said.
About a month before their trip, Gaetano Benza reflected on his “D-Day plus one” experience on June 7, 1944, before a French honorary consul presented him with the Legion of Honor medal. He said he wondered “whether I was going to come out of there alive.”
After his stint running supplies and ammo at Omaha Beach, he relocated with his unit, Port Battalion, 297th Port Company, at Le Havre, France, where he continued to support Army combat operations until the end of the war.
After the war, he returned to New York and lived in Southampton before moving to Las Vegas in 1965.
He worked as a barber at the Dunes in the early 1970s, and later at Nellis Air Force Base. He was a member of VFW Post 9774.
This year he authored a biographical fiction book with John Vinuela titled, “December in Le Havre.”
A public viewing will be from noon to 4 p.m. Monday at Palm Mortuary on North Main Street. His funeral service will be 9:20 a.m. Tuesday at the chapel of the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
He is survived by his wife, Kwon Benza, of Las Vegas; daughter Lynda DiBennetto of Southampton, New York; son Charles Benza of Las Vegas; Tommy Benza, of Stafford, Virginia; seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family prefers donations the Saint Barnabas Church, 4921 W. Craig Road, Las Vegas, NV 89130.