After seven decades, a Jamestown veteran of World War II has received a well-deserved award for his service with a little help from his state senator.
On Wednesday, U.S. Army Pfc. Basil Spitale, 89, and his family met with Sen. Catharine Young at her remote office in Jamestown for a special ceremony, during which Spitale was presented with the official medal of France's National Order of the Legion of Honor for his contributions to the liberation of France in 1944-45.
The National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest decoration in France. Appointment to the Order is awarded by the President of France for excellent civil or military conduct, as confirmed after official investigation by the French government.
U.S. Army Pfc. Basil Spitale, of Jamestown, and Sen. Cathy Young pose for a picture while Spitale displays the official medal of France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor, pictured below. The medal signifies the highest decoration in France, and was presented to Spitale for his contributions to the liberation of France during his service in 1944-45.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
Spitale served with the U.S. Army from January 1943 to January 1946. While serving two years of that time in Europe, Spitale fought with the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd Infantry Division would ultimately receive the unfortunate distinction of having endured the highest casualty rate of any American division in World War II, suffering 5,558 killed and 18,766 wounded.
"It's great that, after 70 years, (Spitale) is receiving this tremendous recognition," Young said. "This is given in honor of veterans from America who liberated France during World War II. And, in my opinion, Mr. Spitale is truly exemplary of the greatest generation. He was in some extremely fierce battles, very dangerous situations and saw a lot of loss of life and carnage. But, despite that fact, he battled on and basically helped save the world. We are so grateful to Mr. Spitale for his service to our country and the things he has done."
By all rights, Spitale should have had the medal in his possession decades ago. However, Young said a series of unfortunate events - including the loss of his discharge papers in a fire - created confusion and an indefinite delay of his receival of the medal, despite the fact that he had earned the honor long ago.
"Unfortunately, quite often what I've found is that many of our veterans are due certain honors and medals and, for whatever reason, they haven't received them yet," Young said. "So, in my office, we work very hard to make sure our veterans get the recognition that they so deserve for defending our freedoms."
Young said she first met Spitale through his son George Spitale, who is a member of the Jamestown City Council and a Vietnam veteran, while going door-to-door in Jamestown following an instance of severe flooding in the area. While paying a personal visit to the Spitale household, Young said a conversation about Spitale's military service ensued; leading to discussion of whether or not he had received all of his honors. It was then that Young discovered Spitale had been accepted for appointment as Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.
Since then, Young and her office staff have been working with Spitale and the U.S. government to straighten out the details in order to get an official medal to Spitale to accompany his award. Spitale, who has since been recognized as a Knight of the Legion of Honor, said he is grateful to Young for her efforts in the matter.
"I just want to thank the senator for pursuing this effort here. I appreciate everything she's done for me," Spitale said. "The easiest way I can say 'thank you' is when I meet people and they tell me, 'thank you.' That's the best reward I could have."
Although the French government processed Spitale's record, which is recognized today, further anticipated decorations that would be granted by the U.S., including a Bronze Star medal, have not yet been finalized.