VA NY Harbor Healthcare System
Mets to honor 2 WW II D-Day Vets
On June 6th, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, two WWII D-Day Veterans, Judge Bentley Kassal (103) and Photographer Tony Vaccaro (96) will be honored by the Mets during the mid-day game at Citi Field.
Judge Bentley Kassal volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Air Force in January 1942, assigned to Air Combat Intelligence School, graduating with honors. As a second Lieutenant, he was assigned to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He then assisted in the planning and participated in the Allied landings at Gela, Sicily. After the capture of Naples, he again planned air intelligence missions.
When the occupation of Italy was almost complete, Kassal returned to Naples for the seventh Army invasion at St. Tropez, France, in August, 1944. Shortly thereafter, he accepted the surrender of seventeen German soldiers. The troops in Southern France moved north, where they were caught amid the Battle of the Bulge and General Patton’s counter-attack. Thereafter, Kassal’s unit moved through Bavaria and was at Augsburg with D-Day was declared. He was assigned to London to prepare for the invasion of Japan, since it was anticipated that German pilots would be part of the Japanese air defense.
Kassal was awarded the Bronze Star with three Bronze Arrowheads for three invasion landings and was awarded seven Campaign ribbons in the European Theatre. His clearance was “Top Secret”, the highest intelligence classification and received intelligence data from the “Ultra Secret” classification. He served in the Army Air Force for four years and overseas for 30 months in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany before his discharge on December 31, 1945, with the final rank of Captain. He is a Major (Retired) in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
Kassal received the French Legion of Honor from the French Defense Minister, with a ceremony in Normandy. He was also awarded membership in the American Society of French Legion of Honor.
Kassal has donated several war mementos to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City for its permanent exhibit “Ours to Fight For”. This exhibit has been shown in several US cities. A retired Supreme Court Judge, Kassal lives with his wife on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Tony Vaccaro served in the Army, attached to the served with the Intel Platoon of the 83rd Infantry Division, 331 Regiment, Headquarters company, to land as part of the D-Day invasion in Normandy. Vaccaro self-assigned himself the role of photographer while serving in the Army. He was a soldier through the occupation of Germany in 1949 and then transitioned from WWII combat photographer to fashion and personality photographer.
Vaccaro has always lived in the moment, prepared to capture the next human story with his camera. He’s also very good with words, vividly evoking scenes from various periods of his own life. He has known and photographed scores of celebrities and legendary people in the arts like the composer Shostakovich and the French Mime Marcel Marceau and stayed friendly with many of them for decades.
Vaccaro has taken thousands and thousands of photographs, his most famous are Kiss of Liberation (1944) and GI Dead in Snow (1945). In his Long Island studio, the walls are lined with folders of negatives that are in the process of being digitalized. Hanging on the wall are some of his personal favorites, that include a portrait --- of JFK taken at the White House.
Vaccaro went on to make images for the immensely popular LIFE and LOOK Magazines. He married a Finnish model and had two sons. Later, successful and well known, he worked independently.
Today, Vaccaro is kept busy with shows of his work. He is currently still working at his Archives in Long Island City and has many exhibitions all over the world. He let go of his Archives five years ago and let his family take care of his work. HBO did a documentary on Tony Vaccaro called ‘Underfire’ and it was nominated for outstanding documentary at the 2018 Emmy’s. The human stories of his images are timeless and appreciated now as much as they were a generation or two generations ago.