Visco awarded French Legion of Honor
Serafino R. (Ralph) Visco of Morgan County was recently recognized by France for his service during World War II and awarded its highest military decoration, the Legion d’honneur.
Consul General Olivier Serot Almeras of the French embassy invited Visco to Washington for an October 13 ceremony, but Visco, 94, was not up to the trip and later received the award by mail.
The letter accompanying the award read: “You have been named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor as a sign of France’s gratitude for your personal contribution to the liberation of our country during World War II.”
The National Order of the Legion of Honor, of which Visco is now a member, was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. The word Chevalier is equivalent to Knight.
Visco distinguished himself as a soldier in General George Patton’s 3rd Army and was decorated with a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during campaigns in France and Germany.
Omaha Beach & beyond
Sitting in his living room with two small dogs -- a Chiwawa and a Yorkshire terrier – in his lap and a black rescued cat at his feet, Visco said, “It wasn’t pleasant. We were almost going to lose the war if the landings didn’t succeed.”
The landings of course took place on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Private Ralph Visco was a rifleman with the 105th Infantry that stormed Omaha Beach where American units prevailed after a tough fight.
Visco fought at St. Lo in Normandy, Troyes in Southern France and Wiltz in Luxembourg.
In December 1944, he was reassigned to the 26th Infantry Yankee Division of Patton’s 3rd Army as a reconnaissance scout. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge where he sustained one of his three wounds.
“It was a shrapnel wound to my head. I was in combat for seven months without a break,” Visco said.
He continued to march with Patton’s Army until the end of the war. In all, he participated in campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Southern France and Germany.
Before & after the war
Visco was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Italian immigrants. After high school he attended the Art institute of Pittsburgh and the Tomilson Art School in St. Petersburg, Florida.
In 1935 he joined the Marine Corps. After his stint in the Marines, Visco joined the Civil Air Patrol. He joined the Army in 1942, shortly after the U.S. entered World War II.
After the war, Visco traveled around the country and had many jobs. He was a dealer at the Pioneer Club in Las Vegas where he met famous entertainers like Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole.
“I was there when the mob was there. They called me Frank because no one used their real names,” he said.
He moved to Los Angeles and worked for Lee Sholem, the director of the Tarzan films. He worked 10 years for the U.S. Postal Service in Arizona.
Visco has lived for the last 30 years in Morgan County. Many of his paintings are displayed at his home. Most are of wildlife such as big horn sheep and buffalo as well as landscapes that he saw and painted while out west.
“I have been painting for 80 years,” he said. He has donated many of his paintings to charitable organizations.
Although it was not yet Thanksgiving, Visco and his wife Bobbie had their home decorated for Christmas because their four young grandchildren were visiting.
His new French Legion of Honor award joins his other honors and medals, including the Combat Infantry Badge, Invasion Arrowhead, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Campaign Medal with four Bronze Stars, Yugoslavian War Cross, French Croix de Guerre and Expert Rifle Badge.