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Never too late: WWII veteran, 100, to marry fiancée, 96, near Normandy beach

Harold Terens and Jeanne Swerlin at her Boca Raton home on Friday, May 24, 2024. The 100-year-old veteran from Lake Worth Beach will marry his 96-year-old girlfriend, Jeanne Swerlin of Boca Raton, this month in a French town near where he served as a soldier during World War II. He is being honored by the French as part of the 80th anniversary of the country's liberation from the Nazis. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

He may be 100, but Harold Terens still smooches like a teenager.

It’s one of the many reasons his fiancee, Jeanne Swerlin, 96, is marrying him.

“He’s such a good kisser,” Swerlin said.

The pair loves to snuggle, hold hands and make each other laugh. They are also excitedly getting ready for a historic wedding trip. Terens, a Lake Worth Beach resident, and Swerlin, of Boca Raton, will tie the knot on June 8 in France, the place where Terens faced some of the most formative experiences of his life as he helped the Allies fight the Nazis as a soldier during World War II.

Terens and other World War II vets are going to France for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when Allied forces landed on the Normandy coast to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi terror. France will honor the former soldiers at several ceremonies this year, including a commemoration with President Joe Biden in Cherbourg on June 7.

This 80th anniversary marks Terens’ fourth D-Day celebration in France. There are not many veterans like him left: Only 119,550 of the 16.4 million Americans who served in World War II were alive as of 2023, according to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

Terens, a native of the Bronx, did not land in France on D-Day but arrived 12 days later to help ferry captured German soldiers and freed American troops to England. He became an expert in Morse code and participated in war missions in Iran, Ukraine and England before his service ended in 1945. He had been deployed for three years.

He married his wife Thelma, who became a professor at Hofstra University in New York, in 1948; she died in 2018 after 70 years of marriage. They had two daughters and a son and moved to Florida from New York in 2006. Terens, a former vice president of a British conglomerate that distributed beer, cigarettes and other items, has eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Swerlin, a Brooklyn native, also has two daughters and a son and has been married twice before. She has four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Swerlin had lived with Boca Raton resident Sol Katz for 25 years until his death in 2019. Katz’s daughter, Joanne Schosheim of Boca Raton, introduced Swerlin to Terens in 2021. Schosheim’s children attended camp with Terens’ grandchildren.

The couple said their first date did not go well, as Terens was shy and failed to make eye contact.

“I had been married for 70 years and my wife died,” Terens said. “For three and a half years, I saw no one.”

But at the urging of a friend, he called her for a second date, at Seasons 52 in Boca Raton, and they clicked.

“We ordered, but I couldn’t eat,” he said. “I felt like I was exploding inside. It was the most romantic, exciting, exhilarating time in my life.”

Swerlin said she also fell in love on that date.

“Never have I felt this way about anyone,” she said. “We laugh all the time. At 96, to have this, I mean, come on.”

Terens, who is participating in a longevity study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said his life has been deeply influenced by the work of the late Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the 1952 best-seller, “The Power of Positive Thinking.” The centenarian believes the upbeat attitude he learned from Peale, who became his friend, as well as efforts to minimize stress, good genetics (his mother lived to 100) and luck have been the primary drivers of his longevity.

Terens and Swerlin will be married not far from the French beaches where Terens served, in the town of Carentan-les-Marais.  The town was the site of an intense battle with the German Wehrmacht after U.S troops landed in Normandy.

The mayor of Carentan-les-Marais will officiate at the wedding at City Hall, and Terens said a parade is expected after the ceremony. He said the town requested pictures of him as a 20-year-old soldier, which organizers plan to print on cards to be distributed at the parade. Employees of the French consulate in Miami, whom Terens has gotten to know from his anniversary visits to Normandy, arranged many of the wedding details for the couple.

Besides the 38 friends and family members who will attend the wedding, the couple will be accompanied by a 24-piece band of bagpipers led by retired Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue Capt. John Fischer of Boca Raton. The band plans to play at several D-Day beaches and World War II commemorative sites in the coming weeks, including Pointe-du-Hoc, Utah, Sword, Omaha and Juno beaches in France, where the Allies began their World War II journey inland through Europe.

After their two-week trip to France, Terens and Swerlin said they will continue to travel and attend ballet performances and local clubs (they like The Funky Biscuit music venue in Boca Raton).

Terens said not much is going to change in his life after the wedding. He and Swerlin plan to maintain their own residences. And he said he will continue to start his mornings the same way each day. He gave a demonstration.

“Hey Alexa,” he said to the interactive voice assistant, “Play ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’.’ ”

Alexa obeyed, and the uplifting ode to happiness from the Broadway classic “Oklahoma!” filled Swerlin’s home with exultation in honor of two lives well lived.


© 2024 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.