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A World War II veteran marries near D-day beaches. He’s 100, she’s 96

An elderly man in light blue suit and woman in bright pink holding a bouquet clasp hands and smile.
World War II veteran Harold Terens, 100, and Jeanne Swerlin, 96, celebrate their wedding Saturday at the town hall of Carentan-les-Marais in Normandy, northwestern France.
(Jeremias Gonzalez / Associated Press)
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The collective age of the bride and groom was nearly 200. But World War II veteran Harold Terens and his sweetheart, Jeanne Swerlin, proved that love is eternal as they tied the knot Saturday inland of the D-day beaches in Normandy, France.

Terens, 100, called it “the best day of my life.”

On her way into the nuptials, the 96-year-old bride-to-be said: “It’s not just for young people, love, you know? We get butterflies. And we get a little action, also.″

The couple, both widowed, grew up in New York City: she in Brooklyn, he in the Bronx.

They wed at the elegant stone-worked town hall of Carentan, a D-day objective that saw ferocious fighting after the June 6, 1944, Allied landings that helped rid Europe of Adolf Hitler’s tyranny.

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Like other towns and villages across the Normandy coast where nearly 160,000 Allied troops came ashore under fire on five code-named beaches, it’s an effervescent hub of remembrance and celebration on the 80th anniversary of the deeds and sacrifices of young men and women that day, festooned with flags and bunting, and with veterans feted like rock stars.

Terens went to France as a 20-year-old U.S. Army Air Forces corporal shortly after D-day. He enlisted in 1942 and, after shipping to Britain, was attached to a four-pilot P-47 Thunderbolt fighter unit as the radio repair technician.

On D-day, Terens repaired planes returning from France so they could rejoin the battle. He said half his company’s pilots died that day. Terens went to France 12 days later, transporting captured Germans and freed American POWs to England. Following the Nazi surrender in May 1945, Terens again helped transport freed Allied prisoners to England before shipping back to the U.S. a month later.

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On Saturday, as the swing of Glenn Miller and other period tunes rang out on the streets, well-wishers — some in WWII-era clothes — were lined up a good hour before the wedding behind barriers outside the town hall, with a rousing pipe-and-drum band on hand to serenade the happy couple.

After declaring “oui” to vows read in English by Carentan’s mayor, the couple exchanged rings.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Terens said.

She giggled and gasped, “Really?”

With Champagne flutes in hand, they waved through an open window to the adoring crowds outside.

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“To everybody’s good health. And to peace in the world and the preservation of democracy all over the world and the end of the war in Ukraine and Gaza,” Terens said as he and Swerlin clinked glasses and drank.

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The crowd yelled “la mariée!” — the bride! — to Swerlin, who wore a long, flowing dress of vibrant pink. Terens looked dapper in a light-blue suit and pink pocket square.

The couple enjoyed a special wedding-night party: They were invited to the state dinner Saturday night at the Élysée Palace with French President Emmanuel Macron and President Biden.

“Congratulations to the newlyweds,” Macron said, prompting cheers and a standing ovation during the toast praising French-American friendship. “[The town of] Carentan was happy to host your wedding, and us, your wedding dinner,” he told the couple.

The wedding was symbolic, not binding in law. Mayor Jean-Pierre Lhonneur’s office said he wasn’t empowered to wed foreigners who aren’t residents of Carentan, and the couple, both American, hadn’t requested legally binding vows. However, they could complete those formalities back in Florida if they wish.

Lhonneur likes to say that Normandy is practically the 51st state, given its reverence and gratitude for Allied soldiers and the sacrifices of tens of thousands who never made it home from the Battle of Normandy.

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“Love is eternal, yes, maybe,” the mayor said, referring to the newlyweds, although his comments also describe the feelings of many Normans for veterans. “I hope for them the best happiness together.”

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Jane Ollier, 73 — dressed in a 1940s dress that belonged to her mother, Louise, and a red beret — was among those who waited for a glimpse of the couple.

“It’s so touching to get married at that age,’’ Ollier said. “If it can bring them happiness in the last years of their lives, that’s fantastic.”

Leicester writes for the Associated Press. AP journalists Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contributed to this report.

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