PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — June 6, 1944 – thousands of allied soldiers crossed the English Channel to the shores of France.
The D-Day invasion was the beginning of the end for Nazi domination of Europe.
Nearly 70 years to the day later, France thanked local veterans, in an emotional ceremony at Soldiers and Sailors Hall. They were pinned on the lapels of nine men who risked their lives to liberate France in World War II.
French Consul General Olivier Jerot Almeras personally presented his nation’s his nation’s highest accolade: the Legion of Honor Award.
He says he made the trip from Washington, D.C., “To see how important it is for them to remember those days, and how important it is for me and these French officials, to say thank you.”
Among the nine is 90-year-old Wilbert Cusano of McKees Rocks. The former sergeant arrived at Omaha Beach two days after D-Day, with the 295th Engineer Combat Batallion. They had the dangerous task of clearing mine fields and building bridges, like the one at the Ruhr River.
“The Germans opened the dam and flooded the river,” he says. “We had to get a bridge across.”
Working in the dead of night, they got the job done. Then they marched through Germany to the Elbe River, where they built what they called the Truman Bridge.
“That’s where we met the Russians,” Cusano recalls. “And the peace treaty was signed there. And that was it.”
All 12 members of his squadron survived, though Sergeant Cusano was among the wounded.
He says a medic told him, “‘Will, I’m going to send you back.’ No, I says, you’re not sending me back to headquarters. I said just put a bandaid on me and I’ll be all right. Which he did. He said, ‘You’re a hard head.'”
The French Legion of Honor medal is an honor well deserved.