MORRISTOWN A post office mix-up made for a surprise Thursday when Robert F. Shelato, 87, began sorting through a box of backlogged mail.
In the clutter was a letter from the French Consulate in Miami, Fla., congratulating Mr. Shelato on becoming a knight of the countrys Legion of Honor. The post office had held it by mistake.
Mr. Shelato, 67 years after leaving the European theater of World War II, won Frances highest military distinction for his service fighting the Nazi regime across France and back into Germany.
Drafted into the Army at age 18, he joined the war effort in 1943 as a buck sergeant in charge of security for the 249 Engineer Combat Battalion, part of General George S. Pattons Third Army.
Landing on Utah Beach in Normandy in August 1944, he embarked on a whirlwind tour of war-torn Europe that saw him traversing the French countryside in pursuit of Nazi forces as they retreated in early 1945.
Describing his time at the Battle of the Bulge, where the Allies repelled a major Nazi offensive in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, Mr. Shelato said he remembers his platoon taking significant losses to an ultimately failed Nazi ambush. Within the first two hours, two-thirds of our platoon was turned into casualties, he said.
I had much worse experiences than that, he said. Thats why I am getting the medal.
The French Legion of Honor is merely Mr. Shelatos most recent award. Besides four minor medals for good conduct, he has a Silver Star, a Medal of Honor from Luxembourg and an American Theater Ribbon with four Bronze Stars, for his extraordinary service that took place within a year and a half in the final days of World War II.
The Silver Star, awarded in 1944, was given after he pulled his driver from a Jeep that had just taken strafing fire from a German Stuka.
The Luxembourg Medal of Honor was awarded last year for his efforts along the Our River dividing Germany and Luxembourg. During the Battle of the Bulge, this bridge was used to transport Nazi troops and vehicles to the front lines. When the Allies began to turn the tide, it was used to aid in the Nazi retreat.
Gen. Patton, seeing the strategic importance of the bridge, had it bombed and cornered a contingent of German troops along the river.
For Mr. Shelatos part in rebuilding the bridge, thereby allowing the Allies to chase the Nazi force, and in capturing roughly a dozen Nazi troops who were hiding near the bridge, he was granted the Medal of Honor. It was presented at the unveiling of a monument on the German side of the Our River to the bravery of the men who fought there.
Following the war Mr. Shelato spent many summers in Morristown and now lives just outside the village for six months of the year.
Because of the post office mix-up, he missed this years induction ceremony for the French Legion of Honor medal and will receive it by mail. A small ceremony will be held when he returns to Florida later this year.
His book, From Wheat Fields to Battlefields, about his experiences growing up in Indiana during the Great Depression and his time in World War II, is available free online and at the Morristown and Hammond libraries.