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Pittsburgh Area Vets Honored for Their D-Day Service

“All I know is we wanted to get off that beach which we did because there was a lot of casualties,” recalls Ralph Russo of New Castle about the D-Day landing at Normandy 70 years ago today.

There where thousands of casualties—9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded including 6,600 Americans.

96-year old Mike Vernillo of Pittsburgh served with the US 227th Field Artillery Battalion on June 6, 1944.

“It was very difficult; you can’t stop to help nobody, you have to just keep running.”

Vernillo said he was “very lucky” to survive; he was not wounded but his uniform “was cut by shrapnel.”

Russo, now 96 years old, was a member of the 115th Army Infantry Regiment which was immediately under fire from German pillboxes.  He said after artillery knocked out the pillboxes, his unit had to deal with a minefield.

“We got through the minefield by going step for step, following each other’s steps; whenever one stepped on a mine, the other took over, and there were quite a few that stepped on mines but we eventually go on top.”

Russo was unscathed making it to the top of that hill but was wounded in both legs by sniper fire at the Germans’ second line of defense at St. Laurent–sur-Mer in Normandy.

US Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) along with nine other Senators joined President Obama today in Normandy to commemorate the service of American troops during D-Day and throughout World War II.  Casey said the anniversary is a poignant reminder of the great sacrifices made by service members and their families. 

“So we have to do everything we can to pay tribute to them, to honor their service, and to do everything we can to be worthy of their valor,” he said.

Casey said you honor that service by making sure promises are kept. “We have to make sure that veterans have what they need when they return to civilian life.  We need to continue to work together to make sure that all veterans have quality health care and timely access to that health care, in addition to that to make sure they’re getting the other benefits they’ve earned.”

In Pittsburgh this week, nine World War II veterans were presented with a prestigious honor they earned 70 years ago.  Mike Vernillo, and Ralph Russo along with Armand Bruno and William Carr, both of Verona, Wilbert Cusano of McKees Rocks, Robert Dallas, Larry Kushner of Monroeville, Rudolph Marzio of Aliquippa, August Pace of Bethel Park were awarded the Legion of Honor Medal by France’s Consul General for their role in liberating France.  A tenth honoree, Nevin Woodside of Verona was too ill to attend the ceremony at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum.

“It’s an honor.  I didn’t even know they would do a thing like this after 70 years, but they (the French people) sure appreciate it.  It was nice to be here at 96,” Ralph Russo chuckled.