NEW YORK (CBS 2) – More than 66 years ago, Sgt. John Simonetti landed in Normandy on D-Day in an elite Army Rangers unit.
Simonetti and his unit marched into France, fighting their way through the Nazi lines. Ten days after the invasion, the young Queens native fired a rocket grenade into an enemy machine gun nest.
Immediately after firing, a sniper’s bullet struck the then-26-year-old sergeant, killing him instantly. The fighting was so fierce that his comrades couldn’t immediately recover his body. By the time they could, it was gone.
But his family never gave up trying to find him and their efforts finally paid off, CBS 2′s Don Dahler reports.
Simonetti’s 105 family members laid him to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery last Monday under blue November skies with a lone trumpeter playing taps between the 21-gun salute.
“Ever since I was very, very young, there was this Uncle John you almost felt you knew, even though you never met him,” said Fred Salerno, nephew of the missing hero.
Salerno and several family members made the trip to Normandy 50 years after D-Day to get a sense of the place and, on a hunch, leave something behind.
“We left a business card with our uncle’s name on it. Never ever expecting to receive a phone call,” Salerno said.
Sixteen years later, a road crew in the village of Saint Germain d’Elle dug up a body with Simonetti’s dog tags. Someone in town remembered Salerno, found his card and made the call.
It was at that point when an American hero was finally brought home and crowned thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
“You do what you can in this lifetime to try and close these matters out. But we had no idea that this would end up this way. We were really blessed,” Salerno said.
This week, Simonetti’s family came from all over America to say hello and goodbye to the forever young man they always admired.
The French, meanwhile, believe it’s likely the villagers buried him hastily in a shallow grave as soon as the fighting let up, and that’s why Simonetti’s fellow soldiers couldn’t find his body.
IN OTHER NEWS…