George J. Caselli, a humble hero who belatedly received the French Legion of Honor award for his service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, died Nov. 9, his family said. He was 96.
Mr. Caselli flew 34 missions in Europe as a B-24 bombardier in the 450th Bomb Group, a highly decorated force known as the "Cottontails." He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his service, which included missions in support of the liberation of France.
After learning of his service, the French government formally thanked him 66 years after the war by awarding him the Chevalier medal of the French Legion of Honor, the country's highest award for a foreigner. He received the medal at a ceremony in July at the California Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park.
"It's very nice," he said.
A Sacramento native, Mr. Caselli was born in 1915 in the Fruitridge area and raised in Oak Park, where he worked as a checker at Arata Brothers grocery. He graduated from Sacramento High School and Sacramento Junior College and earned an economics degree at UCLA.
He worked as a Pacific Gas and Electric meter reader before joining the Army Air Corps in 1942. He retired from the Air Force Reserve as a full colonel in the 1970s. He worked at PG&E and later joined the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, where he retired as a manager in 1976.
A longtime River Park resident, Mr. Caselli and his wife, Annetta, were married for 62 years. Besides his wife, he is survived by his sons, John, Jim and Mike, all of Sacramento; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
A memorial is planned for 11 a.m. Monday at Sacred Heart Church, 1040 39th St., Sacramento.