On this day in 1944, thousands of Allied troops arrived on the beaches of Normandy, France. The D-Day Invasion inflicted heavy casualties on the invasion force, but ultimately lead to the end of World War II. Veterans are often honored on anniversaries like today, but ideastream's Tony Ganzer profiles a man whom veterans themselves honor…
“Mon nom est Stan Wielezynski..”
“Owner of La Chatelaine French Restaurant and Bistro here in Columbus.”
66-year-old Stan Wielezynski is a big guy with gentle eyes. He and his family came to the U.S. nearly 30 years ago. His mother was a member of the French resistance and hailed from Normandy. In the office of his restaurant is a photo of the D-Day beaches where he played as a child.
And every D-Day since 1994, Wielezynski has honored veterans in his French bistro in Columbus, bedecked in hardwoods, the scent of coffee and pastries wafting.
WIELEZYNSKI: “We are going to put some flags, we are going to sing La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem, we are going to open some champagne. In France when you celebrate, you know, you have a glass of something as a plate of something.”
These celebrations prompted veterans to appeal for and win for Wielezynski entry to the French National Order of Merit…with rank of knight.
WIELEZYNSKI: “It said for service rendered to France recognizing, honoring, having fun, having parties with the survivors of the D-Day, the Landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944.”
Wielezynski’s motivation to celebrate veterans was sparked in 1994, during a family trip to Washington D.C. The last stop was the Vietnam Memorial.
WIELEZYNSKI: “There was a guy sitting on the ground without legs, begging for money. He said he was in Vietnam, and he has been wounded, and he had nothing to live so he was begging on the street.”
Stan’s daughter, Marie Charlotte, was deeply troubled. She couldn’t understand how someone could give so much to his country, and have nothing given back.
WIELEZYNSKI: “We said 'wow, is it not time to give something back?' Can we show our daughter, that if the President of the United States doesn’t have the time or the money, you know, to take care of his own soldiers, because he’s the supreme chief, maybe other people can take care.”
Eventually Wielezynski compiled a list of more than 30 survivors of D-Day whom he would invite each year to the celebration at his bistro. He recalls meeting an Army Ranger who scaled the Pointe du Hoc: a German-fortified cliff between Omaha and Utah beaches
WIELEZYNSKI: “And he told us--in front of his wife--that for 50 years he never, never thought about what happened that day anymore. And he felt like it was really an opening in his mind, like a therapy, I mean, just say 'somebody is caring about, you know, what we did, all of us there.'"
Wielezynski came to be extra sensitive to veterans’ experiences. His bistro event was special. Just as becoming a knight, a Chevalier, is special, because it was requested by veterans.
WIELEZYNSKI: “For the last 20 years, that event of the celebration of D-Day or the meeting that we have from time to time with the veterans, were something we were giving things, because we love. You know, giving is loving, period. But now, you know what? Now we have a duty. Now I’m a knight, I have to go on my big horse, you know, with my big sword, and say 'come on guys.' Kind of a feeling of duty, yeah, a task, now we have a task to do.”
Or put another way: Knight Stan has a mission, to keep honoring veterans.