"Explosions all over the place, everything. This is Normandy," Benjamin "Benny" Stabile said.
Stabile was drafted into World War II when he was 19. Three of his brothers, who were 18, 20, and 21, were drafted as well.
"My mother?" the veteran said. "She was heartbroken."
(95-year-old Benjamin "Benny" Stabile of Astoria fought in some of the most important battles of WWII. Angi Gonzalez/NY1.)
Fortunately, all four came back alive, but Stabile had some close calls, such as when he found himself in a small boat headed to the coast of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944 — D-Day.
"We didn't know it was going to be an invasion," Stabile recalled. "I didn't know what the hell to think. I couldn't even swim."
Stabile landed on Omaha Beach with the 29th Infantry, and estimates that only a dozen members of his regiment survived.
"It was as disaster that day," he said.
(Benjamin "Benny" Stabile during World War II.)
But the mission was a success. D-Day was a turning point in the war.
Stabile was also there for another brutal but successful battle, one that arguably ended the war early. What Stabile remembers the most about the Battle of the Bulge was the weather.
"I was so cold, my face — I couldn't smile. My face was, like, frozen," Stabile said.
Stabile served for three years. He said at one point he fought alongside Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of the war.
"He was a regular guy," Stabile said about Murphy.
Stabile earned his own awards. Some are on his old uniform. His Purple Heart and Bronze Star are in a display case at his Astoria home.
(Benjamin "Benny" Stabile with his old uniform. Angi Gonzalez/NY1.)
To his granddaughter, Andrea Colella, and grandson, Joseph Colella, they evoke pride.
"He's amazing," Andrea said, in tears.
"It's inspiring," Joseph said.
Stabile worked for decades as a carpenter before he retired.
In his basement, he keeps a trove of old documents, guns, bullets, and other war mementos. In one box: love letters his then-fiancée sent him during his service.
The two eventually wed, had a daughter, and were married 70 years before his wife died two years ago.
Now 95 years old, Stabile says he approaches every Memorial Day with mixed feelings.
"I saw a lot," Stabile said. "I can't say all I saw. It's a solemn holiday for me."
But his daughter says Stabile can feel good about his service.
"I think it's amazing that my dad was part of history and he survived it," Patricia Colella said.
Stabile says he didn't have a choice, and despite all his accomplishments, he was focused on one thing the whole time: getting back home alive.
Like this story? Sign up to get similar ones delivered to your inbox every Thursday evening with our Boro by Boro newsletter.