Dominick Critelli, a decorated World War II veteran, will be knighted and awarded the French Legion of Honor for his courage and devotion in liberating France during World War II next month. NewsdayTV’s Virginia Huie reports.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas; Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Dominick Critelli, a decorated World War II veteran, has been honored for his service in recent years by a number of organizations after living most of his 103 years without even mentioning his military experiences, a daughter said.

But it's not the awards that are uppermost in Critelli's mind. It's the men who never came home from the war — men, he said, whose sacrifice should never be forgotten.

"I always think of them," Critelli, who served in the U.S. Army, said in a recent interview at his Floral Park home. "I feel that those recognitions belong also to those people that didn't come home. ... Some of my friends didn't come home. And I think they would appreciate it as much as I do," he said of the honors he's received.

Critelli's latest accolade is being "appointed Knight in the order of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic," according to a letter he received in March from Damien Laban, acting consul general of the French Consulate in Manhattan. Laban's letter said, "We will never forget the bravery of American heroes such as yourself, to whom France owes so much."

Critelli, one of a dwindling number of surviving World War II veterans, will soon be traveling to France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. But it remains unclear whether he'll receive the award then. Laban's letter said only, "My staff will be in touch with you soon to set a date."

Victoire Caroly, the consulate's head of press, communications and political office, confirmed Critelli's appointment in an email. 

Another consulate official, Kyra Holland, said in an email, Critelli "has been awarded the Legion of Honor. He should be decorated in France."

American Airlines is scheduled on Friday to fly 70 World War II veterans, including Critelli, to France for the D-Day commemorations, "to honor them for their service and sacrifice," the airlines said in a release. It will be an all-expenses-paid trip on a donated chartered flight.

Erum Mithani, communications manager for American Airlines, said, "We're trying to track down on our end" details about when Critelli might receive his award from France.

Critelli emigrated from Italy to the United States when he was 8 years old.

As a 22-year-old  U.S. Army staff sergeant and member of the 377th Infantry Regiment’s Artillery Aviation Unit, he helped get trapped soldiers vital supplies during the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.

"We made 124 trips," Critelli said. "I made 14 of them."

 Among his awards in a black binder he keeps in his basement are letters of commendation, including one dated April 16, 1945, from Lt. Gen. G. [George] S. Patton Jr., which certified "you were there."

Patton noted the achievements of the 95th Infantry Division, to which Critelli was attached. His letter read in part: "The fourteen days of continuous attack against a strong and aggressive enemy, along a 26-mile front, drove irresistibly to the heart of the city of Metz where contact was made with American forces advancing from the south ... greatly contributed to the destruction of an entire reinforced German division."

"I am not a hero," Critelli said, adding he gets "choked up" when he thinks about his fallen comrades. "They're the real heroes."

Nancy McLaughlin, of Elmont, one of Critelli's two daughters, said it has been an "amazing journey" as her father has received recognition from so many, and traveled far and wide as a result.

Critelli, now a great-grandfather, spent 20 years as a New York City school teacher and is a musician who continues to play his saxophone with the 17-piece band he formed in the 1970s, Dominick Critelli and the Sound of Music Orchestra.

He was even brought onstage by the famed Dutch violinist and orchestra conductor Andre Rieu during the maestro's appearance last September at UBS Arena in Elmont. McLaughlin showed a video of Rieu introducing her father. Critelli then takes a position in the orchestra and begins playing. 

All of this attention started when Critelli turned 100.

Before then, McLaughlin said he "never talked about his military experiences. And then he got involved with military veterans groups for his 100th birthday. They have enriched his life so, and I think that gave him permission to appreciate the contribution he made, and it's opened him up. ... I can't thank these guys enough for what they've done for him."

McLaughlin said her father's emergence as a representative of World War II veterans came after a health scare. He broke his leg in August 2020 and, his daughter said, he seemed to "deteriorate."

"At that time he was unable to walk," she said.

The family brought him home from a rehabilitative facility.

"The next day, my mother [Helen] was killed" in a car crash, McLaughlin said.

"I got Dad, who is physically not doing well, and Mom's gone," McLaughlin said.  "And so my sister [Susan Munroe-Jesel] and I split the workload ... and for the first six months we stayed with him around the clock. We would alternate nights."

Both daughters are nurses.

"He got stronger," McLaughlin said. "That was in October [2020]. And by April he was in pretty good shape" when he turned 100. She said a nephew, Danny Esposito, reached out to Honor Flight Long Island, whose vice president, Roger Kilfoil, told the family, "'We'll have a parade.'"

"They had a parade of all parades," McLaughlin said, with more than 200 vehicles.

Kilfoil said the 100th birthday parade for Critelli in 2021 was organized by another group he's associated with, the nonprofit Mission Margraten Plus, of which he is co-founder with his wife, Stephanie Folwell. The group brings World War II veterans to the Netherlands "to visit the graves of their fallen brothers and to thank the Dutch grave adoption families." 

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, citing U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, estimated that as of last year, 119,550 of the 16.4 million Americans who served in World War II were still living. It's safe to assume the number who can travel abroad is far fewer than that. Critelli visited that museum last year through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Soaring Valor program. 

Before he even gets to France later this month, Critelli was scheduled to make another trip on May 19 to the Netherlands — his third — through Mission Margraten Plus.

"Mr. Critelli to me represents the Greatest Generation" of men and women, Kilfoil said. "When their country needed them, they answered the call. Stephanie and I think maybe America and the world forgot the lessons of the price of freedom. Our veterans paid that price or met that cost."


 

Dominick Critelli, a decorated World War II veteran, has been honored for his service in recent years by a number of organizations after living most of his 103 years without even mentioning his military experiences, a daughter said.

But it's not the awards that are uppermost in Critelli's mind. It's the men who never came home from the war — men, he said, whose sacrifice should never be forgotten.

"I always think of them," Critelli, who served in the U.S. Army, said in a recent interview at his Floral Park home. "I feel that those recognitions belong also to those people that didn't come home. ... Some of my friends didn't come home. And I think they would appreciate it as much as I do," he said of the honors he's received.

Critelli's latest accolade is being "appointed Knight in the order of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic," according to a letter he received in March from Damien Laban, acting consul general of the French Consulate in Manhattan. Laban's letter said, "We will never forget the bravery of American heroes such as yourself, to whom France owes so much."

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Dominick Critelli, 103, a decorated World War II veteran, will be knighted and awarded the French Legion of Honor for his courage and devotion in liberating France during World War II.
  • He will be traveling to France later this month in preparation for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, which was June 6, 1944.
  • Much of the recognition he has received has come after he turned 100. He's been helped in overcoming physical struggles and tragedy by his daughters.

Critelli, one of a dwindling number of surviving World War II veterans, will soon be traveling to France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. But it remains unclear whether he'll receive the award then. Laban's letter said only, "My staff will be in touch with you soon to set a date."

Critelli's latest accolade is being "appointed Knight in the order of...

Critelli's latest accolade is being "appointed Knight in the order of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic."  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Victoire Caroly, the consulate's head of press, communications and political office, confirmed Critelli's appointment in an email. 

Another consulate official, Kyra Holland, said in an email, Critelli "has been awarded the Legion of Honor. He should be decorated in France."

American Airlines is scheduled on Friday to fly 70 World War II veterans, including Critelli, to France for the D-Day commemorations, "to honor them for their service and sacrifice," the airlines said in a release. It will be an all-expenses-paid trip on a donated chartered flight.

Erum Mithani, communications manager for American Airlines, said, "We're trying to track down on our end" details about when Critelli might receive his award from France.

An 'amazing journey'

Critelli emigrated from Italy to the United States when he was 8 years old.

As a 22-year-old  U.S. Army staff sergeant and member of the 377th Infantry Regiment’s Artillery Aviation Unit, he helped get trapped soldiers vital supplies during the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.

"We made 124 trips," Critelli said. "I made 14 of them."

 Among his awards in a black binder he keeps in his basement are letters of commendation, including one dated April 16, 1945, from Lt. Gen. G. [George] S. Patton Jr., which certified "you were there."

Dominick Critelli in a World War II-era photograph. 

Dominick Critelli in a World War II-era photograph.  Credit: Newsday/Courtesy Dominick Critelli

Patton noted the achievements of the 95th Infantry Division, to which Critelli was attached. His letter read in part: "The fourteen days of continuous attack against a strong and aggressive enemy, along a 26-mile front, drove irresistibly to the heart of the city of Metz where contact was made with American forces advancing from the south ... greatly contributed to the destruction of an entire reinforced German division."

"I am not a hero," Critelli said, adding he gets "choked up" when he thinks about his fallen comrades. "They're the real heroes."

Nancy McLaughlin, of Elmont, one of Critelli's two daughters, said it has been an "amazing journey" as her father has received recognition from so many, and traveled far and wide as a result.

Critelli, now a great-grandfather, spent 20 years as a New York City school teacher and is a musician who continues to play his saxophone with the 17-piece band he formed in the 1970s, Dominick Critelli and the Sound of Music Orchestra.

He was even brought onstage by the famed Dutch violinist and orchestra conductor Andre Rieu during the maestro's appearance last September at UBS Arena in Elmont. McLaughlin showed a video of Rieu introducing her father. Critelli then takes a position in the orchestra and begins playing. 

All of this attention started when Critelli turned 100.

Before then, McLaughlin said he "never talked about his military experiences. And then he got involved with military veterans groups for his 100th birthday. They have enriched his life so, and I think that gave him permission to appreciate the contribution he made, and it's opened him up. ... I can't thank these guys enough for what they've done for him."

Critelli is a saxophonist with the 17-piece band he formed in the...

Critelli is a saxophonist with the 17-piece band he formed in the 1970s. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Resilience amid tragedy, injury

McLaughlin said her father's emergence as a representative of World War II veterans came after a health scare. He broke his leg in August 2020 and, his daughter said, he seemed to "deteriorate."

"At that time he was unable to walk," she said.

The family brought him home from a rehabilitative facility.

"The next day, my mother [Helen] was killed" in a car crash, McLaughlin said.

"I got Dad, who is physically not doing well, and Mom's gone," McLaughlin said.  "And so my sister [Susan Munroe-Jesel] and I split the workload ... and for the first six months we stayed with him around the clock. We would alternate nights."

Both daughters are nurses.

"He got stronger," McLaughlin said. "That was in October [2020]. And by April he was in pretty good shape" when he turned 100. She said a nephew, Danny Esposito, reached out to Honor Flight Long Island, whose vice president, Roger Kilfoil, told the family, "'We'll have a parade.'"

"They had a parade of all parades," McLaughlin said, with more than 200 vehicles.

Kilfoil said the 100th birthday parade for Critelli in 2021 was organized by another group he's associated with, the nonprofit Mission Margraten Plus, of which he is co-founder with his wife, Stephanie Folwell. The group brings World War II veterans to the Netherlands "to visit the graves of their fallen brothers and to thank the Dutch grave adoption families." 

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, citing U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, estimated that as of last year, 119,550 of the 16.4 million Americans who served in World War II were still living. It's safe to assume the number who can travel abroad is far fewer than that. Critelli visited that museum last year through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Soaring Valor program. 

Before he even gets to France later this month, Critelli was scheduled to make another trip on May 19 to the Netherlands — his third — through Mission Margraten Plus.

"Mr. Critelli to me represents the Greatest Generation" of men and women, Kilfoil said. "When their country needed them, they answered the call. Stephanie and I think maybe America and the world forgot the lessons of the price of freedom. Our veterans paid that price or met that cost."


 

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

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