MACDILL AFB, FL (Michael Bottoms) – Special operations legend Caesar Civitella was awarded the French Legion of Honor which is the highest decoration offered by the French government and was started by France’s first consul, Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. Despite being normally awarded only to French nationals, the honor can be bestowed upon foreign nationals who have served France or helped the country’s values and principles.
The ceremony presided over by Maj. Gen. Bernard Commins, French senior national representative to U.S. Central Command and was held July 14, Bastille Day (National Day) in France, at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. Civitella, ten other World War II veterans received the medal.
Civitella was born Aug. 21, 1923, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was the son of Italian immigrants. He joined the Army in February 1943 and, because of his fluency in Italian, he was screened and selected for the historic Office of Strategic Services headed by Maj. Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan.
Civitella would eventually become part of a 15-man OSS Operational Group. The small OG teams had multifaceted missions and worked with local resistance organizations, where they conducted hit and run missions against enemy-controlled roads, railways, and strong points, or prevented their destruction by retreating enemy forces. Donovan believed Soldiers with native language skills and cultural backgrounds could be inserted as a team into enemy-occupied territory and successfully operate as small guerilla bands. They were trained in infantry tactics, guerilla warfare, foreign weapons, demolition, and parachuting.
“We trained in small teams, and we trained hard together and that training was the foundation of our success in France,” Civitella said. “Success behind the lines necessitated trust, respect and leadership within the OG and all the training Donovan insisted upon really built that trust.”
According to his bio from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command website in early 1944, after eight months of intense training, Team Lafayette of which he was a part, were inserted into North Africa to support Operation Dragoon — the allied invasion of southern France. This was his first operational jump behind enemy lines. Team Lafayette, along with two other Operational Groups, captured nearly 4,000 Axis soldiers after employing psychological warfare against the finance section of a Nazi division in France.
Following their mission in Southern France, Team Lafayette went on to operations in Italy. There he participated in 21 air operations dropping leaflets while working as a “Bundle Kicker.” Following his service OSS and World War II, he become one of the first Green Berets, and then served with the CIA until the early 1980s.
Civitella was helped by Dr. Troy J. Sacquety, Civil Affairs Branch Historian, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, to fill out the necessary paperwork and prove Civitella’s military service in France during World War II.
“I provided Caesar with copies of the after action report of OSS Operational Group Lafayette and some supporting documentation. Then it was up to Caesar to submit the application,” said Sacquety. “The French did come back for more information regarding his operation. At that time, I submitted a letter to them saying that he was a member of Lafayette, which parachuted into southern France on August 29, 1944 in support of Operation Dragoon. Caesar was there, he did it, and earned the right for the award.”
Revered in the Special Operations community, Civitella was presented the U.S. Special Operations Command Bull Simons Award for his outstanding and dedicated service to Special Operations May 19, 2008.