Remembering D-Day: U.S. Veterans Honored at Embassy
See photos of this event on the Embassy’s Flickr page.
As part of commemorations of D-Day, France decorated 19 U.S. veterans of World War II at the French embassy on June 6.
The day, which is the 69th anniversary of the 1944 Allied invasion of France’s Normandy coast, is marked by ceremonial activity at the French embassy and its U.S. consulates every year.
Washington Consul General Olivier Serot Alméras honored the former combatants with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award for national service.
In opening remarks, Mr. Serot Alméras praised the men for their courage. Under the bleak conditions in which U.S. and Allied forces landed on France’s coast, the men fought to liberate a country that most of them had never been to, he said.
"The price was [the lives of] 60,000 U.S. soldiers," he said. "We will always remember."
In interviews following the ceremony, several of those decorated spoke of their activities while in combat. Steven Melnikoff, serving as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army, landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
"I lost 40 percent of my men" before reaching the shore, he explained, indicating the huge losses witnessed by survivors of the offensive. For the next several weeks he took part in the fighting in northern France before pushing on to Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.
Some of the veterans expressed humility, even disagreement, at being considered heros. Clarence Ray, a soldier who landed at Utah Beach, said he "never anticipated receiving" the Legion of Honor.
He called his military service a "privilege" more than a duty. "I’m no hero," he said.
Though the veterans did not know each other personally, their common experience was sufficient to spark new relationships while together at the French embassy. Jack Bertram, a pilot of B-17 bomber airplanes, discovered several of his fellow honorees hail from locations near his current home.
The others, in exchanging stories, seemed to be "just as excited as I was," Mr. Bertram said.
Created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Legion of Honor recognizes men and women who have served France in exceptional capacities in military or civil affairs. It is the highest distinction that can be conferred upon a person by the French government, whether that person is of French or foreign citizenship.