Niagara Gazette —
WEST POINT — Almost 70 years after Joseph Federico was wounded and captured in the hedgerows of France, he was personally thanked Friday by that country's government during a heartfelt ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy.
The 88-year-old Belvidere, N.J., resident was among 34 World War II veterans decorated as knights of France's Legion of Honor in a ceremony leading up to the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings that began June 6, 1944. Many honorees had white hair and stooped postures and rose slowly to have the medals pinned to their chests. But, to a man, they said the honor was welcome seven decades after their service.
"I'm just lucky that I'm here to get this, you know, because it was awfully tough for all of us," said Federico, who spent two months recovering from a shrapnel wound to his leg as a prisoner of war. "I lost good friends from my company, and it was terrible."
Federico wore his new decoration on his blazer, just below his Purple Heart.
Also among those being honored was James Vaccarella, an 89-year-old Niagara Falls resident.
“How does it make me feel?” Vaccarella said earlier this week of Friday's ceremony. “Proud as hell.”
The medal to be bestowed on him is to honor his actions during a three-day operation in the middle of February 1945, part of the Battle of the Bulge.
The French Legion of Honor is an order of distinction established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. Hundreds of Americans have been awarded the medal in the decade since France opened eligibility to living U.S. veterans who fought on French territory during any of four major campaigns. But Consul General of France Bertrand Lortholary said it was important to show their gratitude at West Point in front of the cadets who will make up the next generation of U.S. officers.