With honors

CASSADAGA – They have been called the greatest generation, and recently one of those heroes was honored by his post.

Stockton resident and WWII Veteran Ray Lelonek entered the Cassadaga American Legion Post filled with family, friends, and fellow veterans who were pouring their sincere gratitude for his service to his country all those years ago.

Post 1280 Acting Commander Karl Lawson, Office of NYS Sen. Catherine Young Constituent Relations Manager George Fillgrove, and Chautauqua County Veteran Services Director Gary Chilcott each had something to say in respect to Lelonek.

Lawson read off an outline of Lelonek’s accomplishments.

“At age 19 he entered military service, was inducted on Feb. 26, 1943, and entered active duty on March 4, 1943. His military specialty was radio operator,” he read. “Ray was stateside until Oct. 9, 1943. This was his date of departure to the European Theater Operation. I think we all know what came next for Ray and thousands of other servicemen. The battle and campaigns he endured were Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Central Europe, and Rhineland.”

“Tonight we are honored to present the following medals: European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with silver star attachment, WWII Victory Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button, and the Good Conduct Medal,” Lawson continued.

Along with the medals, Lelonek also received a proclamation from Sen. Young, a certificate from County Executive Vince Horrigan, and a certificate of appreciation for outstanding service and being a 27-year member of the Cassadaga American Legion Post 1280.

Fillgrove summed up the true meaning of the greatest generation.

“Ray is truly a representative of the greatest generation in this countries history,” he said. “The people that survived the Great Depression then went off, fought, and won a war.”

Chilcott commended Lelonek on his service.

“I am glad to be here. My dad lives in Cassadaga, so it’s like coming home for me,” he said. “We thank you Ray.”

Donna Jaquith, Ray’s daughter, commented on her parents being married for 68 years this coming November. She spoke highly of Ray’s niece as well, who came to celebrate with the family.

“I met my wife Virginia after service,” Ray said. “She fell for my uniform instantly and we got married.”

Chilcott read what these battles meant to America, and what Ray did for his country.

“At age 19 he won firsthand five campaigns. We just celebrated the 70th Anniversary of Normandy,” he said. “He advanced further into France, which turned into the battle of Ardennes, our most costly and bloodiest battle. He went towards the Rhine river, which historically made an important cultural impact. This is our heritage and what the greatest generation gave to us.”

Fillgrove announced the news of the French President deciding after all this time to honor the American soldiers who fought in Normandy. He will honor them with the French Legion of Honor if they can prove they were there. Sen. Young has nominated Lelonek for this honor, and if he gets it the French President will personally come here to honor him, or have Lelonek come there.

“My dad was also offered the purple heart for being wounded in action, but wouldn’t take it,” Jaquith said. “He wouldn’t take it because his brother was killed in the war.”

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