In February 1945, Alfred “Fred” D’Orazio, then an 18-year-old U.S. Army private, was among several soldiers who fell under German fire after crossing the Sauer River, which separates Luxembourg from Germany.
“They kept hitting the whole line,” D’Orazio said. “They had us zeroed in.”
D’Orazio said he had no idea how long he was in the snow, likely days, before being found by emergency personnel before he was taken to a hospital to be treated for shrapnel wounds in his elbow and shoulder, when he noticed his feet were black to his ankles from being exposed to the elements, which the doctor said he couldn’t help with.
“Better he said that because they were cutting off toes and feet up there,” he said. “It was touch and go … you don’t stay there more than two days. Either you’re going to have an operation or you’re wounded too bad.”
The injuries were significant enough that D’Orazio was discharged and returned home, and while the shoulder and elbow recovered a few months later, he said, “the feet never healed.”
D’Orazio now lives in west Forsyth County with his daughter and son-in-law, Jeanne and Jim Curry, and at age 93, though still dealing with his foot injuries, is still active thanks to a motorized scooter, walker and, now, a newly-built ramp around the side of the home built by volunteers through Home Depot’s Team Depot Foundation.
“The team that they had yesterday, even they were amazed at how well they all worked together,” Jeanne Curry said. “They’re excited about being here. I had people driving Dobbins [Air Reserve Base] because they wanted to be a World War II [veteran.]”
Fred Brown, a Home Depot store manager from Dawson County, said he is involved with the foundation for northeast Georgia. He said the foundation has pledged $750,000 to help veterans find a place to live and have accessible homes.
“Our district, I think we’ve completed about 10 projects already this year,” Brown said. “It’s just giving back to veterans.”
Word was also sent out to several veterans’ organizations in Forsyth County and surrounding areas.
“Even though we’re members of different organizations, at the end of the day the only requirement is someone be a veteran, and we get them to step up,” said Matthew Cronley, a Navy veteran with American Legion Post 201 in Alpharetta. “It’s also how we’re engaging the younger veterans.”
For D’Orazio, a ramp was needed to get from the part of the house he stays into the garage. The team was able to get it built in less than two days and while using labor that had not been together before.
“This is approximately a 120-foot ramp,” Cronley said. “Typically the way it starts, you start the first day and you’ve got a pile of people and things are getting laid out, so there’s a little standing around, but once things start coming together – you have to remember, these people don’t work together every day or frequently or may have never seen each other – it takes a few hours for everyone to get coordinated, vetting out the skill sets and the abilities. Once that’s done, it just starts hammering together really fast.”
Curry said it was exciting to see so many people willing to volunteer for the project and while it was a benefit to her father – and the family, who would not need to help him as much – she felt it also memorialized other family members’ service.
“In my mind, I don’t think it’s just for him. I think it’s for everybody in his family and kind of a give-back thank you, not just from him but for all the vets, what they do for everybody,” she said. “I think it symbolizes in my family the five guys [D’Orazio and his four brothers] who served in the war. And my husband was in Vietnam, and my brother was in the Air Force, so we’re … very proud of it and happy with that we’re in a community that acknowledges [service] no matter how long ago it was and that no one’s forgetting them.”
Recalling his service, D’Orazio said it took less than six months from his entering the Army for him to reach the battle lines in Europe.
“We were training, and the breakthrough came through, the Germans broke through and did an assault on our troops. They rushed us over so fast. I went in at the end of August, and by January, I was on the way on the ships overseas. They ran us through so fast, I can’t believe it. First-class accommodations: freight cars from all the way through France to Luxembourg. Freight cars were extra cold. That was the coldest winter in 40 years. We were out in the mud day and night, never came in, we never slept in a bed over there.”
The recommendation was for soldiers to keep their feet dry, but D'Orazio he knew quickly after one particularly landing in the historically cold weather that would be more-or-less impossible.
“When I went over there, they had a rule that you check your feet every night before you go to bed. Only one problem with it: the first night I was on guard duty, so I couldn’t check it. The second day I checked it and knew I’m on the way to having my feet frozen,” he said. “My socks were soaking wet, I had mud on them, my boots were all muddy, the only boots I had were the ones from the states … I looked at them one night, and they didn’t give me any towels or nothing to wipe my feet, no clean socks or nothing, so I never checked them again.
“I knew I was going to be frozen, and I couldn’t help it. They never gave us anything to clear them up.”
Once back stateside, D’Orazio said he found it difficult to find work but considered himself lucky to have that problem.
“It was hard to get a job. Millions of people were kicked out of the service, and there was no place to go. You had to get what you could get,” he said. “But, at least we came home anyway. Some guys didn’t come home, didn’t make it. I’m very lucky we made it home.”