On July 5, 2012, a World War II veteran was awarded the French Legion of Honor at a ceremony in Atlanta, Ga., a week later, nine World War II veterans were bestowed the Legion of Honor at a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and the next day a World War II veteran was honored with the same medal at a ceremony at Old Fort Niagara, N.Y. These are only a few of the more recent ceremonies in which World War II veterans received the Legion of Honor. More than 70 years after the start of World War II, the French government is still honoring the service these men rendered. In each of the cases mentioned above, a French consul general was on hand to present this prestigious award to the veteran in a ceremony that is universally described as touching.
You might be asking yourself what the Legion of Honor is and why former American servicemen are still being awarded the medal to this day. The answer to those questions comes in two parts. The first part goes back to 1802, when Napoleon Bonaparte created the Legion of Honor as a way to award those who upheld the ideals of France. With that as the stated goal of the medal, it is no wonder that World War II veterans have always been natural candidates to receive the Legion of Honor, with past honorees including Dwight D. Eisenhower and Audie Murphy. France’s consul general in Florida, Gaël de Maisonneuve, described the nine World War II veterans at the MacDill ceremony to The Tampa Tribune as men who “are at the core of the Legion of Honor: fighting for France, fighting for democracy.” In fact, the Legion of Honor is the highest award that can be bestowed by France.
As to the why, one only has to look at how the French people have always remembered and honored the sacrifices of U.S. servicemen during World War II. Since the 60th Anniversary of D-Day in 2004, France has been awarding the Legion of Honor to World War II veterans, and that will only continue as the 70th Anniversary of D-Day approaches. D-Day may be described as the longest day, but the French may be credited with the longest memory. Each one of the ceremonies is touching and brings back memories for the veterans. Although any veteran will tell you he didn’t serve for the award, it is nice to have your service recognized and remembered all these years later. As World War II veteran and Legion of Honor awardee Eason Bond told The Walton Tribune, “I’m real proud to be up here and appreciate you thinking about me.”
According to the French government, potential honorees must meet certain requirements. Those requirements include a veteran’s participation in one of the major campaigns (Normandy, Southern France, Northern France, and the Ardennes) that are considered part of the liberation of France during World War II. Any other citations or military awards that the veteran received for his service in World War II should also be included in order for the French government to verify their combat records. The Legion of Honor also cannot be awarded posthumously.
Despite the occasionally tense relationship between the governments of France and the United States, it is comforting to know that the efforts of millions of U.S. soldiers, sailors, and airmen to liberate France from Nazi tyranny are still appreciated and honored. The continued awarding of the Legion of Honor is likely to ensure that their sacrifices won’t soon be forgotten.
If you are a World War II veteran interested in receiving the Legion of Honor, or know someone who potentially qualifies for it, contact the Defense Attaché, Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Rd., NW, Washington D.C., 20007 or call 202-944-6502.