CASSADAGA - They have been called the "Greatest Generation," and recently one of those heroes was honored by his post.
Stockton resident and World War II veteran Ray Lelonek entered the Cassadaga American Legion Post 1280 filled with family, friends and fellow veterans who were expressing their sincere gratitude for his service to his country.
Karl Lawson, Post 1280 acting Commander, George Fillgrove, constituent relations manager representing Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, and Gary Chilcott, Chautauqua County Veteran Services Director, each had something to say in respect to Lelonek.
Virginia and Ray Lelonek are pictured with three of their children, Andy Lelonek, left, Donna (Lelonek) Jaquith and Donald Lelonek, right, during a recent celebration for Ray.
Photos by Jasmine Willis
"At age 19 he entered military service, was inducted on Feb. 26, 1943, and entered active duty on March 4, 1943," Lawson began. "His military specialty was radio operator. Ray was stateside until Oct. 9, 1943. This was his date of departure to the European Theater Operation. I think we all know what came next for Ray and thousands of other servicemen. The battle and campaigns he endured were Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Central Europe and Rhineland."
"Tonight we are honored to present the following medals: European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Silver Star attachment, WWII Victory Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button, and the Good Conduct Medal," Lawson continued.
Along with the medals, Lelonek also received a proclamation from Sen. Young, a certificate from County Executive Vince Horrigan, and a certificate of appreciation for outstanding service for being a 27-year member of the Cassadaga American Legion Post 1280.
Fillgrove summed up the true meaning of the "Greatest Generation."
"Ray is truly a representative of the 'Greatest Generation' in this country's history," he said. "The people that survived the Great Depression then went off, fought, and won a war."
Chilcott commended Lelonek on his service.
"I am glad to be here. My dad lives in Cassadaga, so it's like coming home for me," he said. "We thank you, Ray."
Donna Jaquith, Ray's daughter, commented on her parents being married for 68 years this coming November. She spoke highly of Ray's niece as well, who came to celebrate with the family.
"I met my wife, Virginia after service," Ray said. "She fell for my uniform instantly and we got married."
Chilcott read what these battles meant to America, and what Ray did for his country.
"At age 19 he won firsthand five campaigns. We just celebrated the 70th anniversary of Normandy," he said. "He advanced further into France, which turned into the battle of Ardennes, our most costly and bloodiest battle. He went towards the Rhine, which historically made an important cultural impact. This is our heritage and what the greatest generation gave to us."
Fillgrove announced the news that French President Francois Hollande will honor American soldiers who fought in Normandy with the French Legion of Honor. Sen. Young has nominated Lelonek for this honor, and if awarded, will receive the medal directly from President Hollande.
"My dad was also offered the Purple Heart for being wounded in action, but wouldn't take it," Jaquith said. "He wouldn't take it because his brother was killed in the war."