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Scores show up to honor WWII veteran in Leesburg

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Scores of cars and motorcycles filed by to honor World War II veteran John Bellefontaine on Sunday afternoon in Leesburg. Photo: Joe Byrnes

Scores of motorcycles and cars filed by the home of a 95-year-old World War II veteran in Leesburg Sunday afternoon.

John Bellefontaine watched the parade of cars from under a tent in his front yard. Photo: Joe Byrnes

John Bellefontaine served with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, which fought valiantly and lost most of its men in the Battle of Bulge in January 1945.

His daughter Deborah Fike said he had hoped to travel to Belgium for a ceremony this year but could not.

She thought Labor Day would be a good occasion to celebrate his service and posted notices on Facebook.

The response was overwhelming.

“It was unbelievable,” Fike said. “Then to have the V-F-W come out and honor him with rifles. It was just an overwhelming experience.”

John Bellefontaine’s great-grandsons saluted as his great-granddaughter Xiomara Betances, of Tavares, sang a patriotic song. Photo: Joe Byrnes

Bellefontaine sat outside under a tent with his family around him.

Several of the bikers gathered near the tent and thanked him. Bellefontaine welcomed them and the others with a broad smile.

“It was a big surprise,” he said, “and they were very welcomed and I appreciated it.”

Later, he spoke of his lost comrades and that crucial battle in the bitter cold more than 75 years ago.

“We lost 80 percent of our men,” he said.

 They had no artillery support, no tanks, and the German army had the high ground.

“And they had machine gun positions,” he said. “And they just mowed us down.”

Daxton Fike, left, and Noah Betances wore t-shirts with their great-grandfather’s picture on them at a special event for the World War II veteran in front of his home in Leesburg on Sunday. Photo: Joe Byrnes

But the 551st met its objective, blocking a German advance. And Bellefontaine was hospitalized with frozen feet.

His daughter said she was impressed by Lake County’s love for its veterans.

“I’m just overjoyed that my dad could have such a special day.”

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Joe Byrnes

About Joe Byrnes


Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.