He helped bring back American POWs in Normandy. 80 years later, he got married there

D-Day 80th Anniversary Wedding
U.S. World War II veteran Harold Terens, 100, left, and Jeanne Swerlin, 96, arrive to celebrate their wedding at the town hall of Carentan-les-Marais, in Normandy, northwestern France, on Saturday.
Jeremias Gonzalez/AP

The first time Harold Terens traveled to Normandy, he was 20 years old, a U.S. Army Air Forces corporal, and tasked with bringing freed American prisoners of war to England days after D-Day in 1944 — a pivotal moment in World War II that helped liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

Eighty years later, Terens returned to the region in northern France with another mission at hand — to tie the knot with his sweetheart Jeanne Swerlin.

"I am blessed that I am going to be married to the beautiful girl that she is. The smartest girl I've probably ever known, the wittiest girl, the best dancer, the most fun," Terens said last week, leading up to the wedding.

"She is the best of all the rest," he added.

Terens, 100, and Swerlin, 96, both grew up in New York City but did not cross paths until 2021 through the introduction of Swerlin's former partner's daughter. Both Terens and Swerlin were widowed at the time. Terens had sworn off dating at the time but he said he felt an instant connection to Swerlin after the two were encouraged to go to dinner, The Associated Press reported.

On Saturday, the two exchanged vows inside a town hall in Carentan, a small port city near the beaches that Allied Forces landed on during World War II. The city is also famous for the Battle of Carentan, when American airborne forces fought to secure the link between the landing beaches, Omaha and Utah, shortly after D-Day.

After their ceremony, the two were invited to a special state dinner at the Élysée Palace with French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Biden.

"Congratulations to the newlyweds," Macron said as the crowd of prominent French figures, celebrities and business leaders cheered for Terens and Swerlin.

It came a few days after Terens and dozens of other WWII veterans were honored by France at a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The event was also attended by Macron, Biden and other European leaders.

On D-Day in 1944, Terens was in England working on radios and helping repair planes for battle. Twelve days later, he volunteered to go to Normandy and help bring back American and British prisoners of war, who were previously held in German camps.

Terens ended his service in 1945 and worked for a British conglomerate that distributed beer, cigarettes and other items, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Copyright 2024 NPR