For the 87-year-old Adairsville resident, the recognition will be a touching honor, especially since it will be the only military award he still will have in his possession. Along with earning the Purple Heart but never receiving it, Ardito's other accolades, such as the Good Conduct Medal and Victory Medal, have been misplaced over the years.
"I was pretty well excited [to hear about the Legion of Honor] because it was [for] something that I'd done -- I had to do -- when I was over there," said Ardito, who served on foreign soil for 18 months before being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army as a corporal in 1946. "It was my job, more or less. It [is] quite an honor. This late in my life, it's going to feel real good I think. At least somebody's recognizing what we've done over there.
"When we got to France ... we ran [the Germans] out and they surrendered. I guess they ran out of ammunition and they ran out of rations. They just automatically gave up and just came forward. We'd say, 'Hande hoch,' which meant hands up and they'd put their hands behind their head. We'd show them where the compound was and they'd more or less go on their own."
On Wednesday, Ardito, will be one of 15 World War II veterans receiving the Legion of Honor at the American Legion Post 160 in Smyrna.
"The National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest honor in France. It recognizes eminent services to the French Republic," said Claire Collobert, press attaché for the Consulate General of France in Atlanta. "Recipients of this honor are designated by the president of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy. The French authorities believe that all [World War II] veterans who participated in the liberation of France in 1944-1945 are entitled to receive the Legion of Honor. It is a way to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of America's heroes to whom France owes our freedom. Mr. Ardito is, as many of his comrades, a contemporary hero.
"He was first drafted into the U.S. Air Force and later transferred to the U.S. Army. He received intensive training in England before going to France with the 'Big Red One' 16th Infantry Regiment. He arrived in Le Havre in a landing ship tank, and because of [his] last name, 'Ardito,' he was one of the first ones sent out into combat. Part of his duties included unloading heavy equipment such as trucks and provisions and moving it to where it was needed. His convoy went through Paris and Dijon before arriving in Germany. There, he served under Gen. Patton. While fighting bravely, he was wounded in the leg with a bayonet and received care in Germany."
Since the honor cannot be presented posthumously, Collobert emphasized time is a critical factor in identifying and recognizing this aging group of military personnel.
"France has always awarded [World War II] veterans with its highest honor," she said. "However, there is now a true sense of urgency and French authorities have decided to speed up the application process. The main difficulty is to identify these veterans. However, thanks to the press coverage these ceremonies get, more veterans are now aware of the Legion of Honor and more applications are received every year.
"Here at the Consulate General of France in Atlanta, we received about 200 applications within the last few years for the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, [and] North and South Carolina alone. Also, these ceremonies are, I believe, fulfilling another purpose: to keep the memory of their utmost courage alive for generations to come. Many younger generations tend to forget this dark part of our common history and this is a way to fight against forgetting."
For World War II veterans wanting to inquire about receiving the Legion of Honor, the Consulate General of France in Atlanta can be reached at 404-495-1660.