With little room left on his navy blue blazer for medals, Quinto “Tony” De Antoni gratefully accepted a proclamation presented to him on Tuesday night by the Belmont City Council.
The proclamation was in recognition of DeAntoni’s service in World War II and his recent designation into knighthood in the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.
The Legion of Honour was created by Napoleon Bonaparte as a general military and civil order of merit conferred without regard to birth or religion provided that anyone admitted swears to uphold liberty and equality. The Order is the highest decoration in France and is divided into five various degrees: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross).
After leading the council chamber in the Pledge of Allegiance, DeAntoni, 93, listened intently as Mayor Coralin Feierbach read the proclamation.
A Belmont resident since 1941, DeAntoni then rose and thanked the council and those in attendance for this special acknowledgement.
“All I can say is thank you to the council and everybody here,” he said.
On Sunday, DeAntoni received the Legion of Honour Award from the French Consulat General de France in San Francisco. French President Sarkozy extended the distinction of knight by merit of DeAntoni’s service to the French Republic while on active duty during WWII.
This prestigious award was bestowed for his service in the Battle of the Bulge and other World War II conflicts. He participated in the Normandy landing on Omaha Beach and served under Generals Bradley, Patton and Simpson. Elevated to knight for his bravery, he had helped in the capture of about 60,000 prisoners in the Loire Valley.
In attendance at the council meeting were members of DeAntoni’s extended family, including his daughter, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Friends and neighbors also came to see “Uncle Tony” receive his proclamation.
Tracy Turner, who attended the ceremony with her two children, is a long-time neighbor of DeAntoni’s and was instrumental in navigating the process of getting DeAntoni the honors he so deserves. As a French speaker, Turner’s help proved invaluable as she plead DeAntoni’s case to the French Consulate in San Francisco and the Embassy in Washington D.C. to confirm him as a recipient of the Legion of Honour Award.
Also in attendance at the ceremony was Belmont resident Leonard Johnson, 90, a fellow WWII soldier, who, like DeAntoni, hit the beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day. The invasion commenced the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation.
Although the two men had never met prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, they both served in the army, DeAntoni as a combat engineer, and Johnson as an artillery observation specialist. In addition to Normandy, they both fought at the Battle of the Bulge.
They sat side-by-side, two proud veterans sharing a moment 67 years in the making. They chatted before and after the ceremony and will make plans to meet up soon to compare stories and memories. Both men were one of five brothers, who with the exception of Johnson’s youngest brother, all saw active duty during WWII.
Johnson also had an opportunity to address the council. “I’m not sure if Tony saved my life, or I might have saved his, but we were both there together,” he said.
DeAntoni’s formidable Legion of Honour medal has taken its place on his right shoulder; on the other are pinned five service stars and a Purple Heart. And displayed between the two on his left lapel is a pin of the Italian and American crossed flags.
At age 93, Tony still has the wit and spirit of a young soldier. When one councilmember admired his Legion of Honour medal, he quipped, “Yeah, that and a buck and a half will get you a cup of coffee.”