The first time John Justi laid eyes on the Eiffel Tower, it was through an ambulance window. He was thousands of miles from home… his feet were dangerously frostbitten… and his condition was worsening.
Before finding himself in this perilous position, the Beaver County high school senior worked weekends at J&L Steel along the riverbank, watching new warships float toward the Mississippi River.
And just like those warships, Justi would find himself in the midst of World War II.
Though he fought in the bloody Battle of the Bulge, he says his most dangerous enemies were German short-range mortars. The men would count mortar shells as German soldiers dropped them into the barrel so they knew how many explosions to expect. One time, Justi miscounted… leaving his foxhole just as the last bomb landed a few feet away.
The bomb was a dud.
The winter of 1944 – 1945 was unusually treacherous. Justi carried frostbitten men through snow embankments and icy fields. “I had the muscles and the get-go,” he explains. But eventually, his own frostbite became too painful to bear.
The doctors in France saved his feet… and he was awarded a Purple Heart.
Justi laughs as he describes coming home to Beaver County… the place where his first glimpse of the war occurred on that riverbank. Upon entering his family’s home… and before saying hello… his mother demanded that he remove his shoes so she could inspect his feet.
Mr. Justi is a resident of St. Barnabas Beaver Meadows. Thank you for your service, Mr. Justi.