Medal of Merit: Honoring lifetime achievement

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James M. Hodgman
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa Public Affairs
He provided thousands of meals for wounded warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Combat Aeromedical Staging Facility here. He also ensured patients and staff members had plenty to eat on Super Bowl Sunday.

Franco Ammirati served the men and women of U.S. Air Forces in Europe in several capacities for five decades. He waited tables, managed base clubs and donated much of his time and money to the men and women of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

For his lifetime of service, Ammirati received the Medal of Merit during a presentation ceremony at USAFE Headquarters here May 3. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, then-USAFE commander, presented the command's second highest honor to Ammirati commemorating his 50 years of dedicated service.

"I was honored to present Mr. Ammirati the Medal of Merit," Breedlove said. "For the past 50 years, Franco was, and still is, the personification of service. No words could ever say how grateful I am to him and his family for all the support they've shown our Airmen and our brothers and sisters in arms. I wish him and his family the best in the future."

Breedlove, now the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and the commander of U.S. European Command, also presented Ammirati with a congratulatory letter.

Ammirati said receiving the MOM was the highlight of his career.

"I never expected any thanks, I was just thankful I could help somebody," he said.

Ammirati was born and raised in Sanremo, Italy. He traveled to Germany in September 1958 and started working as a waiter at Ramstein's Officer's Club later that month. From 1962 to 1964, he waited tables at Vogelweh's Officer's Club, which is now Armstrong's Club. He became the manager of Hahn Air Base Officer's Club in October 1965.

In 1970 Ammirati opened Dino's, an Italian restaurant, in Hohenecken, Germany. With his daugther by his side, he also agreed to run Vesuvio's Italian Restaurant at Ramstein Air Base, Germany in 1993. He managed Vesuvio's until the restaurant closed in 2007.

Today Ammirati visits Armstrong's Club with his wife of 45 years, Christane. He gives her a quick tour of the facility before the couple takes their seats in the Back 40 Lounge.

A smile covers Ammirati's face as he shares a story of two Soldiers who had a craving for lasagna.

When Ammirati was the manager of Vesuvio's, he recalled a request from two Army Soldiers who were held captive by the Yugoslav army for more than 30 days during the Kosovo Conflict in the former-Yugolsavia. After the Soldiers were freed, they were taken to LRMC for medical treatment. Ammirati was notified that the Soldiers wanted lasagna; however, the Italian dish wasn't available in the dining facility at the hospital.

"Don't worry ... I'll take care of it," Ammirati said. He prepared the Italian specialty, which was later picked up and delivered to the Soldiers. Ammirati also refused payment for the meal.

He said providing the Soldiers the food they desired was all the thanks he needed.

Ammirati continued providing meals to service members at LRMC for 12 years. During that time, he donated more than 10,000 meals to wounded warriors receiving care at the medical facility.

He also donated 11 years of benefit dinners to support various base family support agencies and since 2001, provided free dinners for all nominees and volunteers associated with USAFE's Outstanding Airman of the Year Award Banquet.

Ammirati's motivation to provide so much support to America's warriors comes from history.

Ammirati grew up in Italy during World War II.

"It was bad for everybody," Ammirati said. "We were happy to get something to eat."

He recalled finding a care package that a U.S. aircraft dropped. He found carnation milk, wheat, corn meal, spaghetti and Maxwell Coffee inside the package.

"I was so happy," he said. 

Ammirati was thankful to get something to eat during WW II and he was equally grateful to provide meals to USAFE's warriors for 50 years, he added. 

Ammirati secures his MOM to his button-up shirt and looks up.

"If all I had to wear was this," referring to the medal, "I'd be happy," Ammirati said with a smile.

Mrs. Ammirati said she's very proud of her husband.

"I think the Medal of Merit is a great honor and a culmination of his dedication to the American community," she said.

The USAFE Medal of Merit is awarded to non-U.S. citizens in recognition of outstanding service, achievements, or support of the mission of USAFE. Since 1993, 30 people have received the medal.