Nine WWII vets given French Legion of Honor

Ceremony comes three days before D-Day anniversary

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Nine Pittsburgh-area World War II veterans were awarded Legion of Honor medals by France's consul general, Olivier Serot-Almeras, on Tuesday -- three days before the 70th anniversary of D-Day -- in the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland.

Armand Bruno and William Carr of Verona, Wilbert Cusano of McKees Rocks, Larry Kushner of Monroeville, Rudolph Marzio of Aliquippa, August Pace of Bethel Park, Ralph Russo of New Castle, Michael Vernillo of the North Side and Robert Dallas were appointed knights of the Legion of Honor for supporting the French liberation. Fellow WWII veteran Nevin Woodside of Penn Hills was too sick to attend the award ceremony.

"This is for me a symbol of recognizing the veterans who fought for France, to recognize their merits," said Mr. Serot-Almeras. "Because of their self sacrifice and determination to help liberate my country, we want to help say thank you."

Sixty thousand American soldiers from WWII were laid to rest on French soil, Mr. Serot-Almeras said during the ceremony, which remembered the days when grief over those deaths went hand in hand with France's liberation.

Mary Esther Van Shura, Allegheny County's director of community affairs, spoke on behalf of county Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "It is indeed an honor to celebrate with you," Ms. Shura said during the ceremony, "but even more to celebrate because of you."

Curtiss Porter, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer, commented on the unity that the United States and France share.

After the speakers, Mr. Almeras pinned the Legion of Honor ribbon to each of the men's jackets.

"The ceremony was tremendous," said Mr. Kushner. "I appreciate everything that was said."

Mr. Kushner served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion in North Africa and Italy before being taken prisoner in Poland and Germany, where he spent the majority of the war. In 1945, he was taken on a forced march from Poland and across Germany, before arriving in France in mid-April.

"That was a disastrous time for any American prisoner of war," he said. "But I'm here, I'm happy, I'm pushing 90, so things must be good."

After the awards were handed out, everyone in the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor stood as both the American and French national anthems were sung.

"I'm delighted to be here," said Mr. Dallas, who fought for the 149th Combat Engineers. "But I can't help but remember all the men we left on the beach, and then through all the years of life in which many have gone."

Mr. Dallas remembered D-Day vividly, describing how two of his friends had lost their lives on Omaha Beach, and thousands of men unloading from their boats, marching over a steep road and getting taken by trucks into battle.

Accompanying Mr. Dallas at the ceremony was his wife, Joan, whom he met before going into service when he was 19 years old.

"It was truly a golden moment," Mrs. Dallas said. "This was really a wonderful honor."

Max Radwin: or 412-263-1280.

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