This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy, and there is perhaps no better way to remember D-Day than to remember those who fought in the battle.
One veteran with local ties who survived the battle and earned the Bronze Star is being honored by having his photo featured for the month of June in a historical calendar in the city where he spent his adolescent years.
Anthony J. Coccia was born in Phoenixville on July 26, 1914 to Italian immigrants. His family moved to the Franklinton section of Columbus, Ohio, during his childhood, but Anthony remained close to the area. His mother was buried in St. Mary’s cemetery after her death in 1940 and Coccia has cousins living in the area to this day.
He died May 10, 2012, in Hodgenville, Kentucky, at the age of 84, having lived through not only the battles at Normandy, but also the Influenza and Diptheria epidemics of the early 20th century, the Great Depression and even a hurricane while living in Florida.
But despite all the hardships he made it through, he was always thinking of others, his sister Maria Regina Coccia, of Columbus, said. She pointed out the time he gave her his war medals and Bronze Star as an example.
“I was so honored. I didn’t ask him for it and he just decided to send them to me,” she said. “In my heart, it left me with a feeling that I needed to do something for him and for all of the veterans. I just hope that people never forget the sacrifices they made.”
That’s why she traveled to Kentucky to put a memorial brick in the walk at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery Central for him near his final home. She also held a memorial service for him at Franklin County Veterans Memorial in Columbus. That’s where she met members of the Franklinton Historical Society, and the idea was born to feature Anthony for the month of June for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
“He was a resident for many, many years here, as well as his parents and family,” said Historical Society Vice President Bruce Warner. “But he was one of the few we knew was in D-Day.”
The historical society had wanted to do something special to honor the special D-Day anniversary, and featuring the former Phoenixville resident who grew up in Franklinton was a “natural fit,” he said.
Coccia had enlisted in the Army during WWII and landed on the beaches of Normandy on the second day of the invasion, June 7. He would sometimes recount his experience to his sister Maria during phone conversations later in life, a rather solemn topic for a usually very positive man.
“I could tell from what he was saying that it was very, very dangerous,” she said. “He would recount, as they were marching through the land, you just weren’t sure if you’d make it or not. Can you imagine?”
But it brought him joy when he returned in 1970 to Paris to see how different it was, Maria added. When locals there found out he was a G.I., they hugged him, she said.
But Coccia generally shied away from accolades, instead taking most enjoyment from speaking to or writing relatives. When Maria was feeling down, he’d say, “Keep smiling, sis. They don’t make them any better than you.”
“Here’s someone who’s been through everything he’s been through, and he’s always thinking of the other person, thinking about how you’re doing,” she said.
Now she’ll get to see his face all month and give him that smile.
“I think he would be really surprised and happy,” she said of his honor in the calendar. “I don’t think he expected a lot of recognition. He wasn’t the type of person who went around talking about his own accomplishments. He’d feel the same way I felt about the medals – very honored, a humble honor.”