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102-year-old WWII vet honored with French Legion of Honor medal

The French Legion D’Honneur (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ned T. Johnston)
November 25, 2020

A member of the vanishing Greatest Generation who survived fighting Germans in France during World War II was honored last Saturday by a representative of that country he and hundreds of thousands of others helped liberate from the grips of Nazi Germany 75 years ago.

Army veteran Frank Delia of North Belle Vernon, who landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy two days after the start of the historic June 6, 1944, invasion to liberate France, was awarded the French Legion of Honor on Saturday morning by Jean-Dominique Le Garrec in a ceremony outside the Country Care Manor nursing home in Washington Township, Fayette County, where he has resided the past few years.

Le Garrec, the honorary consul of France for Pittsburgh, awarded Delia, an Army veteran, “for his courage and contribution to the liberation of France from the Nazi tyranny.”

The medal is the highest honor that can be conferred on a French citizen as well as a foreigner who has performed eminent eminent military or civil service for France. The approval for the medal goes through the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. A special commission in Paris reviews the nomination for the medal, and it is approved by French President Emmanuel Macron, said Le Garrec, who has been bestowing the Legion of Honor to about 10 veterans a year for the past decade.

“It was good day,” said Delia, 102 and seven weeks from celebrating his 103rd birthday on Jan. 1. He was able to bask in the warm sun outside the nursing home Saturday morning, receiving the applause and appreciation from about 40 family, friends, veterans and local officials during the 40-minute ceremony, complete with an honor guard.

“I think the good Lord is helping him (Saturday). He knows he did something special,” said his daughter, Linda Delia of Uniontown.

It was the first time she and her brother, Gene Delia, 70, of North Belle Vernon, said they were able to see their father at the nursing home because of the covid-19 restrictions against infecting the vulnerable residents.

Delia, a member of the 1st Army’s 17th Signal Operation Battalion, received five Bronze Stars for his service during the war, according to Frank Steck of Perryopolis, who nominated Delia for the French medal. The Bronze Star, the nation’s fourth-highest ranking medal, is awarded for a heroic and meritorious deed performed in battle.

“I don’t want people to forget,” these World War II veterans, said Steck, a retired Veterans Affairs employee.

Delia also fought in the Northern France campaigns, as well as the Rhineland campaign that was the Allies push to the Rhine River, which formed a border with Germany. He also was in the Central Europe and the Ardennes campaign, better known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Like so many other World War II veterans, “he did not tell any (war) stories or said much about his service,” but he did keep a photo album with pictures from his Army days, Gene Delia said.

He was drafted into the Army in December 1942 after having been rejected in April 1942 for eyesight problems, the younger Delia said. He was in England for about eight months before landing in Normandy.

“He saw a lot of things,” including the site in Malmedy, Belgium, where the Germans massacred about 100 American prisoners of war in December 1944, during the early days of the Battle of the Bulge, Delia said.

Sometime in the past 70 years, his father’s five Bronze Stars have gone missing and likely lost, Delia said. He is in the process of obtaining replacements from the Defense Department, he said.

“He never admitted to being a hero,” the younger Delia said.

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