A lifelong Everett resident has received France’s highest decoration, one that dates to Napoleon Bonaparte. Joseph A. Cataldo was presented with the Legion d’Honneur (Chevalier) for his exemplary service in World War II during a special ceremony on December 21 at the Chelsea Soldiers Home.
Cataldo was among the brave American soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. His company stormed across France and helped liberate it from Nazi occupation. Cataldo, a member of the 29th Infantry Division, participated in the Battle of St. Lo, a strategic crossroads city in northern France. Victory in that battle was pivotal in the opening of the Falaise Gap, which allowed Allied forces to expel the Nazis from northern France.
Pfc. Cataldo also served with his unit in the Rhineland and central Europe. During his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star, a Good Conduct Medal, the Purple Heart and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon with a bronze arrowhead.
“These men were present and participated in what was, perhaps, the defining moment of the 20th century: the defeat of the Axis,” said French Consul General Francois Gauthier. “They had the courage to leave behind their American homes and families for a continent and a people they barely knew. Most of the young soldiers who fought in World War II had never even been to Europe, yet risked all to ensure the liberty of others. For this, we are and will always be grateful.”
The Legion d’Honneur was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in May of 1802 and first bestowed on July 15, 1804. It is awarded with gallantry in military action or 20 years of distinguished service in military or civilian life for work that enhances the reputation of France through scholarship, arts, sciences, and politics.
France’s National Order of the Legion of Honour is divided into five various degrees: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officer (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross). The medal is adorned with the head of Napoleon and the motto Honneur, Et. Patrie (honor and fatherland) on the other side.