World War II veteran getting married 

Fla., Mar. 11: Harold Terens and his fiancee Jeanne Swerlin kissed and held hands like high school sweethearts as they discussed their upcoming wedding in France, a country the World War II veteran first visited as a 20-year-old U.S. Army Air Forces corporal shortly after D-Day.

Terens, a gregarious and energetic 100-year-old, will be honoured in June by the French as part of the 80th anniversary celebration of their country’s liberation from the Nazis. Then he plans to marry the sprightly 96-year-old Swerlin in a town near the beaches where U.S. troops landed.

“I love this girl — she is quite special,” said Terens, who has been dating Swerlin since 2021. To demonstrate their fondness for dancing, they had Siri play “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars and then jumped, twisted and gyrated like teens at homecoming.

“He’s an amazing guy, amazing,” Swerlin said. “He loves me so much and he says it.”

“And my god, he’s the greatest kisser,” she said.

The couple, who are each widowed, grew up in New York City: her in Brooklyn, him in the Bronx. They laugh at how differently they experienced World War II. She was in high school and dated soldiers who gave her war souvenirs like dog tags, knives and even a gun, trying to impress.

Terens enlisted in 1942 and shipped to Great Britain the following year, attached to a four-pilot P-47 Thunderbolt fighter squadron as their radio repair technician. Terens said his original pilots all died in the war.

“I loved all those guys. Young men. The average age was 26,” he said.

On D-Day — June 6, 1944 — Terens helped repair 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, helping transport freshly captured Germans and just-freed American POWs back to England. To him, the Germans seemed happy because they would survive the war. The Americans, however, had been brutalized by their Nazi captors over months and even years.

“They were in a stupor,” he said.

He then went on a secret mission — even he didn’t know his destination. His planes hopscotched North Africa before eventually landing in Tehran. There, he survived a robbery that left him naked in the desert and fearing death until an American military police patrol happened by.

He learned the details of his covert mission when he was deposited at a Soviet airfield in Ukraine. As part of a new strategy, American bombers would fly from Britain to attack Axis targets in Eastern Europe. They didn’t have enough fuel to return so they would fly to the USSR. Terens’ job was to get the crews fed and the injured treated before they flew their refuelled planes home.

Terens soon contracted dysentery, which almost killed him. In another close call, a British barkeep refused to serve him past the mandatory closing time despite his pleadings for just one more drink. Moments after he was kicked out, a German rocket destroyed the pub.

Following the Nazi surrender in May 1945, Terens again helped transport freed Allied prisoners to England before he shipped back to the U.S. a month later.

He married his wife Thelma in 1948 and they had two daughters and a son. He became a U.S. vice president for a British conglomerate. They moved from New York to Florida in 2006 after Thelma retired as a French teacher; she died in 2018 after 70 years of marriage. He has eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Swerlin married at 21 and was a full-time mom to two girls and a boy before being widowed in her 40s. Her second husband died after 18 years of marriage. She then lived with Sol Katz for 25 years before his death in 2019. She has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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