French consul inducts 17 WWII veterans into Legion of Honor
New Orleans, LA (NBC33) — The number of living World War II veterans is shrinking every day. On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the French Government gave special awards Friday to several of the men who saved their country from Hitler's army.
"Sending the message on behalf of the French people, of a very big thank you and all our eternal gratitude," said French consul-general Jean-Claude Brunet.
Seventeen veterans will given medals during a ceremony at the National World War II Museum and named chevaliers in the Legion of Honor, France's highest order.
"This is tremendous," said Bob Deich, one of the recipients. "I mean, I almost didn't come, because I thought it was a lot of hoorah. But I'm glad I came."
Memories of World War II are fading for a number of reasons.
"I've tried to forget as much as possible," said Randolph Olano. "Because you've seen so much, and so much of it, you don't want to remember. You force yourself. Anybody that says that it didn't bother them, that they just take it as it comes, they didn't see too much."
Olano, a Technician Fifth Grade, arrived in Normandy six days after the invasion began. "There was so much litter, and bodies and stuff on the beach, (there was) no room for the tanks."
Leonard Goldman did not tell his family much about his service.
"As we put together an application, we really learned a lot more," his grandson, Jeff Clayman, mentioned. "We knew he was proud of his service, but we never really, he never spoke about it all that much.
"We knew that he was very proud of his service, but I realized how brave he was, being so young, and being in the forests in France fighting Nazi soldiers. That was quite impressive."
Goldman passed away soon after he was informed that he was eligible for inclusion in the Legion of Honor, so Clayman accepted on his behalf.
"It underscores the urgency of doing these things as expeditiously as possible, before we lose the last of that generation," he stated.
A few years ago, France adopted the policy of honoring every living veteran who fought in France and helped secure its liberty from Nazi Germany.
"When I bestow the Legion of Honor to US veterans throughout the state of Louisiana, I'm always so moved by the, impressed by the fact that it's not just the American nation that came to save us, France and Europe, from tyranny, from the Nazi terror, but it's, these were thousands and thousands of individual soldiers, American citizens, with their own stories, their own courage and sacrifice," Brunet said.
An overflow crowd filled the US Freedom Pavilion to mark the anniversary of Operation Overlord and to celebrate the 17 honorees.
Oland believes everyone should be as supportive of the armed forces on a daily basis. "People just ignore them," he stated, "instead of doing the same thing they did with me, thanking them for giving their service."