From John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Ben Trimboli, who turned 100 years old on March 15, was one of the first American soldiers into Normandy, crash-landing in a glider.
|Ben Trimboli in the Army circa 1943.|
Ben and his fellow members of the 82nd Airborne Division fought the Germans foxhole to foxhole, field to field for three days, until June 9, when Ben's luck ran out.
"I got hit with a hand grenade," he said. "I saw my leg go up in the air, and there was all of this shrapnel behind my knee. The Germans came over and told the guys that could walk - they all gave up - to pick up the wounded and take them to the back."
Ben and the other wounded G.I.'s were put in a shelter along with wounded German soldiers.
"French girls were feeding them, and we were all the way in the back, so they came over and said, 'Oh, there are Americanos, Americanos.' They wanted to feed us first, but we told them, 'No, we're the prisoners, feed the other German soldiers that are wounded.' So they fed them, and after they got through eating, they came over and gave us the same bowl and poured soup in that bowl, and we had to eat it there, too."
Ben was a prisoner of war from June 9 until June 28, 1944, when he was freed by American forces. All in all, he said, the Germans weren't all that bad.
"They treated us all right," he told me recently. "They helped all of us wounded soldiers."
War in a concentration camp
Michael Stoney's treatment by the Germans was much harsher. A captain in the Polish army, Stoney, who turned 100 on Aug. 8, was captured soon after World War II broke out on Sept. 1, 1939.
|Michael Stoney on his 100th birthday, Aug. 8, 2008|
Michael once told his daughter-in-law that "1,000 went in, but only seven came out."
"It was very bad, you see," he told me, "because there was hunger, hard work - very hard work - and all the imaginable persecution which happened."
I asked him how he managed to survive.
"I was forced to work in the field, agriculture field," he said. "I worked very hard, very hard, and they acknowledged that. They treated me as a good laborer."
Fortunately, both Ben's and Michael's stories have happy endings.
Ben's leg mended, and he returned home in February 1945 to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he married and raised two children. A retired bricklayer, he lives today in Potomac, Md.
Michael lived in England after the war, then emigrated to America. He married, raised a family and worked as a masseur at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. He now lives in Lake Placid, Fla., with Jenny, his wife of 52 years.
Ben and Michael were two of the centenarians featured by Willard Scott on NBC's "Today" show. If you know of any centenarians who've had a brush with history over the past century, please tell us a little bit about them in the comments section below and be sure to fill in your return e-mail address so we can get back to you for more details.