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WWII veteran, 100, marries sweetheart, 96, in France after D-Day events

By AFP - Jun 12,2024 - Last updated at Jun 12,2024

US WWII veteran Harold Terens, 100, married his 96-year-old sweetheart Jeanne Swerlin (AFP photo)

CARENTAN, France — It might have been the longest wait but on Saturday 100-year-old American World War II veteran Harold Terens married his 96-year-old fiancee in Normandy, just days after being honoured on the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in north-western France.

To the sounds of “I will always love you”, “Ave Maria” and bagpipes, Terens and his sweetheart Jeanne Swerlin said “I do” in the town of Carentan-les-Marais at a ceremony attended by dozens of guests, some wearing military uniforms.

To top off an extraordinary day, the newly wedded couple then attended the state banquet at the Elysee Palace in Paris thrown by President Emmanuel Macron in honour of visiting US leader Joe Biden.

“I waited 96 years to find the right man and now I have a wedding like only a queen and king can have,” Swerlin told AFP before the ceremony in Normandy.

“I feel young again,” Terens said. “It’s the best time of my entire life.”

Terens, who wore a light blue suit, entered the local wedding hall to applause from family and friends.

Dressed in satin pink, Swerlin made her entrance to the sound of Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you.” The bride and groom embraced, swaying with emotion.

“Oui!” Swerlin said in French when asked by the mayor, Jean-Pierre Lhonneur, if she wished to take Terens to be her husband.

Terens and Swerlin, who live in Boca Raton, Florida, tied the knot after commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings.

 

‘Dreams of big things’ 

 

“Today Harold chose our country to marry Jeanne. They are among us today. cogratulations to the young couple!” Macron told the pair in his toast to Biden at the state dinner.

The glitzy asembly of guests rose and cheered the couple.

“My religion is love,” Terens told AFP in Normandy. He said he always taught his family to “just love”.

“I never leave my house without saying goodbye and kissing them, always, from the day they are born until today.”

His son Bill Terens said they did not know “if he’d be alive or well enough to travel” to France for the anniversary of the D-Day landings as he regularly did in the past. But Terens said he felt good.

“I want to marry Jeannie,” he also said, according to his son.

“So we all thought it was a little crazy, but we supported him again, and here we are. He has always been a dreamer, he dreams of big things and sometimes he gets them.”

Anne-Marie Ruffier, a 66-year-old local, called the wedding a “unique event”.

“It’s also a way of thanking this man who helped liberate France,” she told AFP.

Pierre Le Goubey, 69, said he “wouldn’t have missed this wedding for the world”.

“It’s a powerful symbol,” he said, adding that in a way the veteran was “marrying France”.

 

‘Unbelievable guy’ 

 

Philip Taubman, Swerlin’s son-in-law, praised the “once-in-a-lifetime” celebration.

“It proves what life is all about,” he said. “Harold was a hero and he made a safer democracy of all the world and this is just the final celebration of his particular life.”

Terens was awarded the French Legion of Honour by Macron in 2019.

“We are very honoured that Mr. Terens has chosen to marry here, in Carentan, where in June 1944 the Allied troops landed on the beaches of Utah and Omaha,” the mayor said.

“We’ll be offering him champagne, of course, but also a gift to thank him for taking part in the liberation of France.”

During the war Terens was also part of a secret mission that took him to Soviet Ukraine via Casablanca, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Cairo, Baghdad and Tehran.

After the war Terens married his first wife, Thelma, with whom he spent 70 years and raised three children until her death in 2018.

In 2021, a friend introduced him to Swerlin, a charismatic woman who had also been widowed, and the two have been inseparable ever since.

“She makes life worth living,” Terens told AFP last month in Florida.

Swerlin said Terens was “an unbelievable guy”.

“He’s handsome — and he’s a good kisser.”

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