France decorates WWII vets
More than 60 years after they helped liberate France during World War II, two area veterans were knighted by the French Legion of Honor.
Ronald Frank, 86, of Gilpin and Joseph Capone, 87, of Wilkins gathered with their families on Saturday at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland to receive their medals.
Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, France’s honorary consul in Pittsburgh, said the French Legion of Honor medal is the most distinguished recognition offered by France to both soldiers and civilians. It was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804.
“Two centuries later, it is my pleasure to present the same medals to two brave men who performed brave actions,” Le Garrec said.
Frank was only 18 when the Army sent him to England to join the 9th Division in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. He said fellow troops thought he had lied about his age.
“They said I only looked 14,” Frank said. “They nicknamed me Junior, which I hated. But I later figured it was a compliment.”
He landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and participated in the liberation of the French port city Cherbourg.
Le Garrec said Frank was honored for his courage during the later campaigns in Northern France when he led his squadron under heavy artillery fire to place and maintain a strategic mortar. Frank previously was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star and Distinguished Unit Badge.
Frank dedicated his French award to his fellow soldiers: “I took it for all my buddies.”
During the more than two years he served in the Army, Frank said he was more fearful for his troops than for himself. “I was afraid of getting them killed.”
Capone landed on Utah Beach in September 1944 and helped defend the Army supply chain. Later, his division was attached to the 1st Canadian and British Army as it crossed Northern France into Belgium and headed for Germany, freeing towns along the way.
Le Garrec said Capone acted as a rifleman and scout, participating in the patrols that sought information on enemy positions and strengths.
Capone was hospitalized three times during the winter of 1944-45, twice for shock and once for severe frostbite. He has received the U.S. Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals.
Capone said he was surprised when he was informed about the French honor: “My God, it’s been 65 years.
“I was thrilled. It’s one of the ultimate honors of my life,” he said. “I have all kinds of medals from the U.S., which I treasure. But this is really unique because it’s from a foreign country.”
Le Garrec said about three people from the Pittsburgh region become knights, or chevaliers, in the French Legion of Honor each year. According to the organization’s website, there are almost 100,000 legionnaires.
Although he wasn’t yet born during World War II, Le Garrec said he personally feels connected to the veterans because his father was a prisoner of war who was freed by American soldiers.
“Without them, I probably wouldn’t be here,” Le Garrec said.
After the war, both men settled in their hometowns.
Capone returned to Homewood and taught for 33 years at his alma mater, Westinghouse High School. He and his wife, Rosemarie, have eight grown children, five of whom were present yesterday. The Capones recently moved to Wilkins.
Frank returned to the Kiski Valley and worked at Allegheny Ludlum for 41 years. He has been enjoying his retirement in the home he built himself.
He and his wife, Mary Frances, have three children.
“I’m so proud of him,” said his daughter, Elaine Ferguson of Allegheny Township. “It brings tears to my eyes.”