By jeanne starmack
George DeLost Jr. came a long way to be in the Struthers City Council meeting room Wednesday night — it was a journey that took more than 65 years.
It began in World War II, after his 1942 enlistment and his landing on the beach at Normandy about a week after the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.
It was hard-fought too, as he pushed into France with his Army unit, the 320th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Division, during the battle to liberate the city of St. Lo from the Germans.
“It took us one month to go eight miles,” he said.
He faced heavy enemy fire in that and other battles in the Normandy Campaign. Sometime after St. Lo’s liberation July 18, his platoon leader became a casualty. DeLost, a sergeant, took over and led the platoon for a month. For that meritorious service, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
His unit continued on toward Paris.
In November in the Foret de Gremecy, a forest in Lorraine, France, he led the weapons platoon of his unit forward until they were stopped by heavy enemy machine-gun and shell fire.
He continued forward alone, across open terrain and beyond a ridge to find the enemy guns. Once his platoon knew where it was, it could continue its advance. For that heroism, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal.
Until September 1945, DeLost participated in the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe and Ardennes campaigns.
He was awarded the Good Conduct Ribbon and the European, African, Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with five Bronze Battle Stars.
He also was awarded a Purple Heart, but the documentation on it was lost, said his son, Ray DeLost of Lakeshore Drive in Struthers. Both of DeLost’s legs were injured in late 1944 during the campaigns, and he spent three months in a field hospital before returning to active duty, his son said. His son is trying to track down the documentation so his father can receive his Purple Heart.
DeLost was discharged from the military in September 1945.
In gratitude for his participation in the liberation of France from the Nazis, General Charles de Gaulle himself awarded DeLost the French Croix de Guerre (cross of war) in October that year.
DeLost returned home to Struthers to work at Youngstown Sheet & Tube and marry his fianc e.
He and his wife, Mary, who live on Center Street, raised three sons — Ray, Tom and Gary.
More than 65 years later, a lifetime’s journey from his enlistment in the Army as a 20-year-old, his family was with him at that Struthers council meeting last week.
His son Ray had asked the French government to award another medal to his father — the Knight of the Legion of Honor Medal.
It is the highest honor France can bestow “upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France,” wrote Graham Paul, consul general de France of Chicago, in a letter to DeLost.
The medal, decreed by French president Nicholas Sarkozy, was to be presented by a high official of the U.S. government. Standing in for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, to present it was state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd. He presented it during the meeting, where council had prepared a ceremony and its own resolution of congratulations.
“Oh, this is beautiful,” DeLost said when he received his medal, saying nothing much more beyond that but “thank you” to friends and family, who gave him a standing ovation.