A World War Two veteran from western Massachusetts was honored Friday by the government of France for his role in liberating the country. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Joseph Della Giustina landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, a day after his 21st birthday. He fought throughout France to liberate the country from the Nazis. For his sacrifice and courage he was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the country’s highest decoration.
Della Giustina,.now 89, a retired Springfield High School guidance councilor and teacher, and a former elected official in Agawam, was bestowed the medal Friday by a French diplomat. He was honored at a luncheon attended by close to 90 invited guests.
There were also citations from Congressman Richard Neal and Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno, who attended the luncheon and fondly remembered Della-Guistina as his former Commerce High School guidance councilor, whom the students called “ Mister G”
Della-Guistina said he vividly remembers D-day, coming ashore in the 3rd wave of the invasion.
Half the allied armies invading forces were killed storming the beaches. Della-Guistina fought on to liberate St. Lo and Cherbourg before reaching Paris. He fought later in Belgium and Germany. When the war in Europe ended, Della-Guistina went to Marseille , where he prepared to ship out to the Pacific. Those plans ended in celebratory gunfire.
The French Legion of Honor is a rare tribute, according to Christophe Guilhou, the French Consul General in Boston. It was created by Napoleon in 1802, and awarded by decree of the President of France as a sign of the country’s infinite gratitude.