In March of 2016, I wrote a story on Gus Andreone, the oldest living PGA Professional, visiting with Arnold Palmer at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Now at the age of 106, Gus has been awarded France’s “The Order of the Legion of Honor”, the Chevalier(knight) Medal, was given by Clement LeClerc, the Consulate General of France. The ceremony was conducted at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum.
Established in 1802 by Napolean Bonaparte as the highest French order of merit for military and civil achievements, the Legion d’honneur has an estimated million members. That makes Andreone one in a million.
“This award is not about me, it’s a ‘we’ thing,” says Gus. ” When I heard about receiving the medal, I first thought about my boys. I will never forget them.” Gus served in the Army during World War II as a member of the 61st Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division, which was nicknamed “the Ghost Division”, stripping their uniforms and equipment of all identification, befuddling the enemy. They fought many skirmishes and battles in France and overtook the fortress at Metz, which had never fallen before in 1,500 years of military history.
Born in Bellaire, Ohio Gustino “Gus” Andreone was the fourth of seven children, and the family moved to Pittsburgh when his father found regular work as a coal miner. During the depression Andreone was fortunate to hold a job as a club cleaner at St. Clair Country Club, where he walked five miles to work and made $30 a month. “We had nothing, but we had a lot,” he recalls. “We had family.” In 1939 he became a card carrying PGA Member.
After the war, Gus stayed in the service until 1945, and then headed home to Pittsburgh and restarted his golf career. In 1947 he became the PGA Head Professional at Edgewood Country Club, where he met a fellow 10th Armored Division member, Spiro T. Agnew, former Vice President of the United States. In 1983, Gus won the Pennsylvania State Lottery, and then in Florida won two Fantasy Fives.
He now still plays golf at Palm Aire Country Club in Sarasota where there is a statue of him on the practice area also named for him, The Gus Andreone Practice & Teaching Facility. In 2014, he recorded his eighth hole in one at age 103.
As the medal ceremony concluded, Andreone winked at his bride, Betty, 102, and received hugs from family and friends. After taking a long look at his new medal, Gus said, “I have been blessed in so many ways. What we all did in service, we did together. There aren’t too many of us left. Today I honor them all.”
Over the 215 years since Napolean established the Order of the Legion of Honor, its wide ranging membership exceeds any conceivable canvas in a Parisian gallery. The images of past honorees include inventor Alexander Graham Bell; Jacques Cousteau; President Dwight Eisenhower; Generals George Patton and Douglas MacArthur; actors Sean Connery, Marlene Deitrich, Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger; pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger; and musician Bob Dylan. And now Gus Andreone. Congratulations Gus!