When Pvt. Joseph L. Vetri arrived in Scotland aboard the Queen Elizabeth on a leaden morning in his 19th year, the enormity of what awaited just days hence quickly dawned on him.
The calendar read: “June 6, 1944”.
“It was about 7:30 in the morning, and the captain announces: ‘It is now D-Day, it is now D-Day; the invasion of France is on,’ ” Vetri told News 12 Long Island in a May 2016 interview. “And I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s why I’m here.’ ”
Vetri, 92, who landed at Normandy about 10 days after that World War II invasion began, participated in the liberation of Paris, and later served as an anti-aircraft gunner defending the vital port at Antwerp during the Battle of the Bulge, died July 6 at his West Babylon home.
Vetri, who was known for breaking into song with favored Frank Sinatra tunes, had battled heart problems and had suffered a stroke earlier this year, said his son Bruce Vetri of Bayport.
“I’m no hero,” Joseph Vetri told News 12 a year ago. “I can tell you this, I was scared every minute of the day. You realize someone is trying to kill you — they’re not messing around.”
Hero or not, Vetri persevered through the titanic struggle that was World War II, in which more than 16 million American troops served for an average of 2 1/2 years each. Some 407,000 never made it home.
“There were times my hands would just be bleeding from all the firing we were doing,” Vetri recalled of his service at Antwerp, where he manned an anti-aircraft gun against swarms of Nazi aircraft. “But we knocked down 361 buzz bombs, 40 bombers, and we had Messerschmitts coming to strafe the troops. We did our job. We did what we were supposed to do.”
After he was honorably discharged with the rank of private in 1946, his son said, he engaged in a series of entrepreneurial ventures, including a Brooklyn camera shop, a Glen Cove photo finishing lab, and a string of Discount Palace health and beauty stores that continued to operate on Long Island into the 1990s.
In addition to his son Bruce, he is survived by his wife Johanna Vetri, of West Babylon; daughters Dara Campbell of East Northport and Barbara Gilbert, of Dallas; another son, Paul Vetri of Center Moriches; and stepchildren Barbara O’Keefe and Ronnie Kohler, both of Babylon.
His July 11 funeral included military honors. He was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.