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Veteran awarded France’s highest honor

Warren resident Steve Scarsella decorated 70 years after World War II’s end

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published May 4, 2015

 Steve Scarsella, 89, was awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest distinction, during a ceremony at Warren City Hall on March 31. (Photo by Brian Louwers)

Steve Scarsella, 89, was awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest distinction, during a ceremony at Warren City Hall on March 31. (Photo by Brian Louwers)

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WARREN — Like many veterans of World War II, Steve Scarsella speaks little about his military service, other than to say he did the job he was asked to do.

He was born in Italy and came to the United States in 1937. He was made a citizen when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. Eight months later, he landed in northern France to fight the Germans on D-Day.

In March, nearly 70 years after he went to war, a representative from the French consulate came to Warren to see him. During a ceremony hosted by Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, Scarsella, 89, was presented with France’s Legion of Honour for his service.

The order, France’s highest distinction, was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward French legionnaires for their service.

“It can only be attributed to heroes for military service,” said Honorary French Consul Pascal Goachet. “What you have to understand is that few people receive it, and when somebody has been selected, it’s because he had additional virtues compared to most people.”

Scarsella sailed from Boston to England in early 1943, where he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 319th Field Artillery Battalion. On June 6, 1944, he was aboard a glider aircraft that was towed across the English Channel to France as part of the D-Day landings.

He later fought in France and the Netherlands, and was sent to Belgium just before Christmas in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.

“It was all pine tree forests, and the snow was really deep, and it was cold,” Scarsella recalled. The division was resting in France and was trucked to St. Vith, Belgium, to repel the German counterattack.

“We had to retreat once,” Scarsella said. “You hear that whiz, whiz, whiz, and that’s it. You hear that, it means it missed you.” 

He was in Germany when the war ended on May 8, 1945. He returned to the United States aboard the Queen Mary, but recalled spending the voyage back seasick below deck. The 82nd Airborne Division later marched in a parade in New York.

As Warren prepared to recognize the 70th anniversary of V-E Day — the end of the war in Europe — with a tribute to World War II veterans on May 8, Scarsella spoke of the sacrifices made by others.

“The real heroes are the ones left over there in the cemeteries,” he said.

Goachet, however, applauded Scarsella’s service in France so many years ago as he pinned the Legion of Honour to his jacket.

“For me, it’s too late, because they should have received it much sooner,” Goachet said of the veterans being recognized years later.

After the war, Scarsella returned to Detroit and worked for Ford Motor Co. He later moved to Warren. He retired from Ford after 42 years.

He and his wife, Fran, have two sons, John and Bruce, and a late daughter, Sheila. They also have six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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