Joseph Civitano is 91-years-old. He took a stroll at the veterans' memorial site in Boynton Beach with the respect of a man who knows what it is like to march on a battlefield.
Civitano said, "My little part, like Patton once said. No matter what you did, your little part helped."
An artillery man with the 11th Armored Division of General George Patton's Third Army, Civitano fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of World War II.
He was one of 17 local veterans awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal this week at a ceremony at the Boynton Beach Civic Center. "It brought tears to my eyes," Civitano said, "very, very touching."
He and his comrades--men he did not know in the war but with whom he forged a soldier's bond--came back from Europe and built their lives and raised their families.
They did not seek fame, but recognition sought them. The French government decided in 2004 to begin honoring all veterans--regardless of nationality-- who helped liberate wartime France.
Civitano recalls those brutal days on the battlefield 67 years ago. He said, "You're scared. Somebody tells you they weren't scared. They were scared. The weather was terrible. Oh you couldn't move. Hands and feet were frozen."
The memories never fade. Neither does one humble man's appreciation for all life gave him after the war. Surrounded by family as he was pinned with the French Legion of Honor Civitano told me, "I'm very fortunate. The luckiest man on earth. Two sons. Two daughters. Ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren."
Doctors put a pacemaker in Joe Civitano during the Christmas season. He's doing fine now and they have not made the doctor yet who could measure the size of a combat veteran's heart. We salute all of them and remember with thanks their sense of honor duty and country.