France Honors Our World War II Heroes with the Legion of Honor
After Paris opposed both the invasion of Iraq and the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein, U.S.-French relations probably reached a new low, hallmarked at times by jingoistic variations of “you’re either with us or against us…” or by juvenile Congressional moves such as renaming “French fries” to “Freedom fries.”
The unfairness of such resentment towards France and the French people struck home to me during a 2010 visit to France.
What I saw and learned during that visit made me re-examine the preconceptions and misconceptions we had at the time about the patriotism and courage of the French people and about their gratitude and esteem towards Americans. It made me feel rather uncomfortable to think of the petty attitudes and episodes — à la “freedom fries” — that were marring French-American relations, and it made me see that beautiful country and its good people in a totally different light.
I was especially touched by the numerous monuments and memorials the French people have dedicated to the World War II Allied heroes who gave their lives to help liberate France — expressions of gratitude to and respect for the Allied Forces of that war, especially towards Americans, that were not in sync with discords at the time between our two countries.
As another sign of how the French people have always remembered and honored the sacrifices of American servicemen during World War II, and unbeknownst to me until very recently, the Government of France has been, for the past few years, bestowing the National Order of the Legion of Honor (Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur) upon American World War II veterans who helped liberate France from the Nazis.
Created by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to honor extraordinary contributions to France, the Legion of Honor is France’s highest distinction and was approved by the President of the French Republic on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day for award to American World War II veterans.
World War II veterans who have fought on French territory in at least one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France — Normandy, Provence, Ardennes or Northern France — and who meet certain other criteria are eligible to receive this outstanding award.
Many World War II veterans have already received this high military decoration. Local newspapers periodically highlight such presentations.
Just three weeks ago, the Monroe, GA. Walton Tribune described the presentation of the French Legion of Honor to World War II veteran Eason Bond who, in August 1944, entered France with the 141st Battalion as part of Operation Dragoon in Southern France.
After receiving the award from the French Consul General in Atlanta, Bond told the Consul, “I’m real proud to be up here and appreciate you thinking about me.”
The Walton Tribune:
Consul General Pascal Le Deunff said the French Legion of Honor — created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte — is the highest honor the country can offer to either a foreigner or a French native.
“It is designed to honor exceptional deeds,” Le Deunff said. “For all your actions, we are extremely grateful to you. You are a true hero and we will never forget what you did.”
After Le Deunff pinned the medal on Bond, naming him a “chevalier” or knight, the two talked a bit about the war and Bond’s experiences in France, including what Bond endured as part of the famous “Lost Battalion,” the unit which “in October of 1944 was completely surrounded by enemy forces and had to outlast the Germans until reinforcements could arrive,” according to the Walton Tribune.
Similar touching ceremonies have taken place and continue to take place throughout the United States.
If you are a World War II veteran or know someone who may qualify for the Legion of Honor, please contact the nearest French Consulate or the Defense Mission at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C: Embassy of France, Defense Mission, 4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, D.C. 20007, or call 202-944-6502.
I received the following message from the French Embassy:
Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur
The Government of France wishes to recognize all Americans who served in the liberation of France during World War II. Each American soldier, if approved, will be named French Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor (Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur) approved by the President of the French Republic on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day . This award was established by Napoleon in 1802.
Any American soldier who served in France during WW II must be alive at the time of application in order to qualify for this award.
The processing time is between 6 months and over a year, due to the large number of applications submitted by U.S. veterans.
The French Embassy in Washington, DC, the French Consulate General which has jurisdiction over your place of residence in the United States, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris are involved in the approval process.
To our World War II veterans who qualify for this prestigious award: Congratulations, Thank You for your service and God Bless.