With a heavy heart, we announce the passing of Gaetano Benza, decorated veteran of Normandy.
Retelling his World War II experiences to younger generations, Gaetano “Guy” Benza would sift sand he brought back from Normandy beaches through his fingers. Human life and blood were filtered through the sand, the North Las Vegas resident used to tell young adults preparing to become officers in the U.S. military, his son said Wednesday. His message wasn’t solely about respect but about the importance of never forgetting history.
The community lost a legend, his son Tommy Benza said. “(He was) a piece of living history and one of the kindest people that you will (ever know).”
During the war, Pvt. Benza was in charge of supplying the forces on Omaha Beach. During the Normandy invasion, he “worked tirelessly, while under heavy enemy fire, to ensure that the soldiers who landed were equipped for battle,” according to a 2014 statement by U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, after Benza and Las Vegan Master Sgt. Davis Leonard were honored with the French Legion of Honor medal for their service in France during the war. The medal is the highest honor France bestows upon its citizens and foreign nationals.
His vast French war experiences were inked in the recently released book “December in Le Havre: A story Based on True Events from the Life of Gaetano Benza,” written by John Vinuela and Joelle Farrow.
Gaetano Benza met President Barack Obama during a 2009 ceremony in Normandy, Gaetano told French Quarter Magazine: “I think it is a privilege to shake the hand of the president of the United States. It is as if you are shaking the hand of all Americans.”
He recalled Obama telling him: “Congratulations, I am proud of you, sir.”
Gaetano Benza went from defending the U.S. to serving its residents after leaving the Army after the war. His followed the footsteps of his grandfather and father, who had been barbers before him, his son said. From his 20s and into his 90s, and up to a couple of months ago, Gaetano Benza continued to cut hair — either at his house, friends' homes or senior citizen recreation centers, where he would cut hair for tips alone — money he used to gas up his vehicle and take his wife on dates.
Gaetano was also a regular at schools and at Nellis Air Force Base, where he would share his war stories, his son said. He was always eager to declare that he had served his country. The younger Benza lost his confidant, who he would talk to on the phone every day, and the family lost "a huge part" of their hearts, Tommy Gaetano said.
Gaetano Benza is survived by his wife of over 20 years, Kwon Benza, his stepdaughter Minan Nelson, son-in-law Larry Nelson, Lynda and Vito DiBenedetto, Charles and Sue Benza, Gaetano Benza Jr. (Tommy) and Kerri Molloy-Benza, granddaughters Izabella and Braelin, grandsons Gaetano III and Anthony Benza, Allie Benza, and great-grandchildren Keeleigh, Kalaiya and Keegan.
On behalf of The Greatest Generations Foundation and its members, we salute Mr. Gaetano Benza for your service and dedication to our freedom. We will never forget you.
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Remember Those Who Served
The Greatest Generations Foundation
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