NEW CASTLE —
Andrew Aniceti never forgot the time he spent with the Army in France.
As he learned in recent weeks, France never forgot about him, either.
Today, the 89-year-old Shenango Township resident is in Washington, D.C., where he will be appointed a “Chevalier” of the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest social and military decoration. The insignia will be bestowed upon Aniceti at 3 p.m. at the French Embassy by a representative of French President Francois Hollande.
Aniceti’s congratulatory letter states that the award “is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive roll in the liberation of our country during World War II.”
The award was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by persons of exceptional merit. The Legion of Honor award criteria later was expanded to recognize contributions in various disciplines of life, including World War II veterans from the U.S. who participated in the liberation of France from Nazi Germany in 1944 and 1945.
“I was shocked when the first letter came in December,” Aniceti said. “I am very honored and humbled.”
Daughter Maria, with whom Aniceti shares a Shenango Township home, said her father has been on top of the world since he first was notified of his impending honor.
“I opened the letter and read it to him and he became very emotional,” she said. “He couldn’t believe that they would remember him after all these years.”
Aniceti was born in New Castle to an Italian father who served in World War I and French mother. Shortly after his sixth birthday, the family moved to France so his mother could be closer to her place of birth.
“My dad only spoke Italian and my mother only spoke French,” Aniceti said. “The languages were close enough that they could understand each other.
“As a result of the years I spent in my mother’s birthplace, I became very fluent in French.”
The family returned to New Castle when Aniceti was 13, but since it was the time of the Great Depression, money was hard to come by, so Aniceti joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1943 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families. A part of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. Aniceti spent the next five years building cabins near the current location of Seven Springs resort, sending $25 of his $30 monthly salary home to help his mother, father and three siblings.
He was drafted upon his return home and landed in France with the 115th Infantry Regiment following the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944.
When members of his unit were asked if any of them could speak French, he raised his hand, and spent the next two years serving as interpreter for the colonel who led the regiment.
“Wherever he went, I went,” Aniceti said. “I was in his company 24/7. Whenever he needed to know something from the French, it was I who communicated with them.”
He eventually landed in southeastern France, near the port of Marseille. Upon Germany’s surrender, Aniceti joined the 11th Airborne Division, which was scheduled to participate in the mainland invasion of Japan. When the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, Japan surrendered, signaling an end to World War II.
Aniceti spent 11 years in the Army Reserves following his discharge and worked at tube and steel mills locally while living in Ellwood City.
He met his wife, Flora, following the war and the two had just had their first daughter, Camille, when he was recalled by the military to head overseas and fight in the Korean War.
As Aniceti was walking up the gangplank that would take him to war, he received orders to return home to help care for his infant daughter since Flora was handicapped as the result of an arm injury suffered at birth.
Camille died in 1995 and Flora in 1999, but Aniceti continues to enjoy the remainder of his family, including Maria and sons Andrew Jr. of Chippewa and Anthony of Ellwood City.
He also has a brother, Alfred, in Ellwood City, and sisters Gina Ferrucci and Liz Petro in Wampum.
Maria and Anthony flew with their father to Washington, D.C., yesterday and plan on being at his side when he receives his honor today, one which previously has been bestowed upon such famous Americans as Miles Davis, Walt Disney, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jerry Lewis, Julia Child, Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen.
“This is just such a wonderful thing for my dad,” Maria said. “To this day, he gets choked up whenever he talks about the Army and to be honored like this for his service is just unbelievable.”
For Andrew, it is a highlight of a life well-lived.
“I have no idea how this happened or how they remembered me,” he said. “But it is a good feeling that someone thinks that I made a difference all those years ago.”
NEW CASTLE —
Andrew Aniceti never forgot the time he spent with the Army in France.
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