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Medals for local WWII vets stolen from Squirrel Hill home

Sunday, May 26, 2013, 9:36 p.m.
 

Medals meant to honor local World War II veterans with France's highest award were stolen from the honorary French consul's Squirrel Hill home on Friday night, the eve of Memorial Day weekend.

Jean-Dominique Le Garrec said his home on Beechwood Boulevard was burglarized late Friday while his family was out to dinner. The only thing stolen appeared to be a large safe in his office that contained consular paperwork, passports and two Legion of Honor medals — one for a veteran to be announced later, and another for Navy veteran Albert Crawford, 89, of Coraopolis, who was scheduled to receive his medal on Tuesday at a meeting of the Veterans Breakfast Club at Robert Morris University.

“I was looking forward to this event, to having France contribute to this great weekend. I was afraid I'd have to cancel,” Le Garrec said. “The character of it would not be the same if we did not have the medal.”

In recognition of their work to liberate France from Axis forces in World War II, the French government has been giving its highest honor to surviving American servicemen.

Crawford, who could not be reached for comment, was a Navy veteran aboard the USS Swivel, one of the ships charged with clearing wreckage from the coast of Normandy and the harbors at Le Havre and Cherbourg so other ships could bring in troops and equipment supporting the D-Day invasion.

He was to be one of 25 World War II veterans awarded the Legion of Honor in a ceremony in June, though Crawford was unable to travel with two other local veterans to Washington to receive the medal at the French Embassy, Le Garrec said.

“When veterans cannot travel, the French government will go to them,” he said.

“It's the greatest honor of all to me, to be recognized for this,” said Henry Parham, 91, of Forest Hills, one of the local veterans going to Washington to receive the medal.

He served in the 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, an all-black unit whose tethered, blimp-like balloons prevented enemy aircraft from dive-bombing the Normandy coast for 68 days.

“It means everything in the world to me,” Parham said. “I'm sorry to hear (the theft) happened to that other gentleman.”

A rush delivery was expected to get another medal to Le Garrec by Monday so he could go on with the ceremony.

Pittsburgh police burglary detectives were not available on Sunday to comment on the theft of the medals. Le Garrec said the safe was large enough that it must have required more than one person to move out of the house — though they must have dropped it at least once, judging by damage to his stairs.

Le Garrec hoped the burglars would realize the medals, made of enameled gold and silver, are worth more to their intended recipients than they would be to a pawn shop and that they would return them.

“We would like to recover these medals,” Le Garrec said. “(The burglars) have benefited from these veterans' service as much as all of us... We would be grateful if they were returned, and it would show respect for the meanings of these medals.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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