It took 69 years. Add that to the age of twenty year olds that were among the 160,000 troops that fought their way ashore on June 6, 1944, on Normandy beaches to gain a foothold against Nazi tyranny and the legion of aged finally honored by France can be understood.
Boynton Beach is only a small city on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Its thriving retirement community basks in winter sunshine where seniors enjoy fair weather year around. The large population of older Americans can participate in active veterans groups of American Legion posts, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other community organizations dedicated to respecting Constitutional guarantees of freedom and those that serve to protect it during peace and war.
The city’s Civic Center, an older building in a quiet, tree lined downtown area near City Hall was chosen for a solemn ceremony. On a Thursday at the end of February 2013, the President and people of France honored U.S. combat veterans that saved them from Nazi occupation and redeemed the world from the horrors of an evil regime of terror.
The French Legion of Honor, or correctly the Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur, was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. The French Revolution abolished royalty and rank, however, as First Consul, Napoleon wanted an order of commendation for members of the military and civilians. Foreigners can be awarded the decoration for distinguished service to France.
French Consul General Gael de Maisonneuve accompanied by French Marine Captain Philippe Petitdidier and French Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Francis Blandid presented medals to some 50 U.S. combat veterans. Badges of the five-armed Maltese asterisk were arrayed on a table. With each would come a letter of commendation and a certificate. The white enameled crosses set off with enameled laurel and oak wreaths and the head of a woman, dubbed Marianne, surrounded by the legend Republique Francaise were magnificently arrayed. It was only later that each recipient was also presented with a bottle of Champagne as well to celebrate the decoration and the special tribute.
As the names of the aged veterans were called out, their birth year was announced by the French Consul General. One was born in 1919, a 25-year old during the D-day invasion of Normandy. He is now a 94-year old, fit and able enough to get off his metal folding chair and walk to the podium to have the red ribbon supporting the decoration pinned to his suit.
Some were in wheelchairs, some used walkers, some required a helping hand from brothers in arms. All of the American veterans were proud and quietly content that their heroism so long ago was being recognized by a grateful nation that has not forgotten the sacrifice these young men made to the cause of liberty and liberation of Europe from the grip of oppression.
Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower declared that “We will accept nothing less than a full victory,” before a bombardment was commenced to weaken entrenched Nazi forces on the heights above invasion beaches in Normandy. General Eisenhower ordered 160,000 men ashore along a 50-mile stretch of Atlantic beach front. On that day alone, June 6, 1944, 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded. The invasion of Normandy began the military push to rid France and Europe of the scourge of Nazi occupation.
Even the children of these courageous men, finally honored in Boynton Beach, were aging. Their grand children were mostly adults. They posed for pictures as the decorations were pinned on suit coats. Each man impeccably dressed for the occasion despite, in some cases, infirmity of old age or illness. All with dignity and humility. Brave deeds done in their youth, then mostly forgotten. Uniforms and military decorations put in trunks and attics as post-war America went back to routine and veterans were assimilated into the workforce.
None sought glory. It was an age of quiet heroism and resolve to follow orders and get the job done. Each soldier performing bravely under unrelenting fire. They saw friends and comrades in arms blown to pieces in their view.
Of the Legion of Honor, Napoleon said to critics, “You call these baubles, well it is with baubles that men are led…the soldier needs glory, distinctions and rewards.”
With the presentation of France’s highest decoration, and the nation’s recognition of American World War II veterans elsewhere, the glory of courage in the face of defiant adversity is recognized as is their dedication to the cause of freedom everywhere.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.