Sitting directly behind First Lady Melania Trump, Santee’s Joseph Reilly was name-checked by President Trump near the start of Tuesday’s State of the Union Address.
Reilly — wearing a brown uniform and staying seated — was one of three World War II veterans recognized.
“On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 15,000 young American men jumped from the skies, and 60,000 more stormed in from the sea to save our civilization from tyranny,” Trump said, noting the coming 75th anniversary of that pivotal event.
“Here with us tonight are three of those incredible heroes,” he said to House chamber applause. “Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sgt. Irving Locker and Sgt. Herman Zeitchik. Gentlemen, we salute you.”
Reilly was 97 last May when he was honored at Memorial Day services at Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial.
A private in the 101st Airborne Division, Reilly was with the Screaming Eagles. He was a paratrooper who landed on Normandy’s Utah Beach at 3:30 a.m. D-Day.
Reilly is a longtime member of Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Santee.
“Joe Reilly is a very staunch Democrat who loves his country dearly,” said Sister Mary Potter, who led the parish’s religious education program until retiring recently to County Galway, Ireland.
Potter said Reilly is a member of Knights of Columbus at Guardian Angels and was usher at 5 p.m. Saturday Mass for many years.
It wasn’t Reilly’s first time in the first lady’s presence.
In July 2017, a Facebook post by the Greatest Generations Foundation included a photo of Reilly shaking Melania Trump’s hand at a Paris event marking the 100th anniversary of America’s arrival in France during World War I.
“Special thanks to President Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump, Joint Chiefs Chairman and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford and the amazing staff at the U.S. Embassy for welcoming our esteemed Normandy veterans back to Paris for this special and historic occasion,” said the post.
County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, a Democrat, tweeted a video of Reilly condemning racism and discrimination by religion, ethnicity or national origin.
“I know Joe Reilly,” Fletcher said. “He is a friend of mine. I desperately hope the American people can hear this message directly from Joe Reilly about the type of people we are in America!”
Tonight @realDonaldTrump recognized WW2 vet Joe Reilly. I know Joe Reilly. He is a friend of mine. I desperately hope the American people can hear this message directly from Joe Reilly about the type of people we are in America! PLEASE RT! #SOTU #Values pic.twitter.com/lTWb28lmo0
— Nathan Fletcher (@nathanfletcher) February 6, 2019
Fletcher told Times of San Diego that Reilly — a retired machinist and longtime labor union campaign volunteer — “calls himself a Democrat and a union man.”
Trump also cited San Diego’s border fence in calling for a “smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall.”
He said it would be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, “and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down.”
The president introduces three American veterans from D-Day: Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sgt. Irving Locker, and Sgt. Herman Zeitchik.
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) February 6, 2019
“San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in the country,” he said. “In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.”
The White House also tweeted a photo of Reilly.
Private First Class Joseph Reilly, World War II and D-Day veteran. pic.twitter.com/cAvvvlm0sw
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 6, 2019
— Veterans Affairs (@DeptVetAffairs) February 6, 2019
.@realDonaldTrump gave a speech tonight about the greatness of America. That greatness is epitomized by the WWII veterans who attended this evening. Thank you to them — and all those who’ve served — for your courage and sacrifice. #SOTU
(Photos courtesy of the White House) pic.twitter.com/M7BggOAMxS
— Bill Cassidy, M.D. (@BillCassidy) February 6, 2019
Updated at 8:25 a.m. Feb. 6, 2019