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France Says ‘Merci Les Américains’ on Bastille Day

Four American vets who helped liberate France during World War II are recognized for their service.

By:  |  July 25, 2022  |    578 Words
france legion of honor medals

Soldier holds a cushion with Legion of Honor medals. (Photo by Michel Stoupak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Nearly 80 years after the epic landing on the beaches of Normandy and the Battle of The Bulge, the French government bestowed its Legion of Honor medal to four American soldiers. France was invaded by Germany during World War II, and the nation was forced to live under Nazi rule for four years – until British and American soldiers arrived to liberate France and other areas of Europe that were under German control.

Recently, France decided to honor four Americans. They include WWII veterans David Bailey, Ernest Marvel, Leslie Simmler, and Benjamin Portaro, who fought the Nazis in France and helped save the nation from German occupation during WWII.

GettyImages-545743955 Battle of the Bulge - Bastille Day

Battle of the Bulge (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The Legion of Honor is France’s highest award, and it can be given to members of the military, or civilians. The award ceremony took place at the home of the French ambassador in Washington, DC. It happened on July 14, the same day as France’s celebration of Bastille Day. Also known as the National Day of France, the holiday commemorates one of the key events in the French Revolution. It marks the fall of the Bastille – a military fortress and political prison, in 1789.

The Price of Being Free

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said:

“The Legion of Honor is France’s highest honor. And so for them to bestow such an honor on these gentlemen speaks to the depth and the historical commitment between our two countries to fight for freedom.”

The four heroes took the medals in stride, reminiscing about how their service began. David Bailey of Bluefield, West Virginia, recalled:

“I’m the oldest veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. That happened in 1944. And I’m 100 years old. It wasn’t very pleasant. We landed on the beach and … in the worst world, and it wasn’t very, very pleasant.”

“We went by the Statue of Liberty, and all that was in our minds was we might never see it again, but we made it back — a lot of us,” Ernest Marvel remembered. And Leslie Simmler, after receiving his medal, said, “I don’t want to make any more veterans. No, no more wars.”

Bastille Day

These aren’t the only Americans who have received the French award – lots of people from around the globe have been honored in this way over the years. Some Americans who have been given the Legion of Honor include soldiers, inventors, artists, and others who have contributed to France and the world.

Bestowing the Legion of Honor to these four men may have been nearly eighty years in the making, but celebrating on Bastille Day was symbolic.

On the morning of July 14, 1789, a mob in Paris seized roughly 32,000 muskets cannons from a military hospital. The mob then set its sights on ammunition stored in the Bastille. Later that afternoon and evening, a violent takeover of the Bastille became the trigger that sparked the French Revolution. The Bastille housed supplies, gunpowder, and weapons that the revolutionaries wanted. Moreover, the structure itself symbolized the French monarchy, especially King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette.

Known as La Fête Nationale or Le 14 Juillet in French, Bastille Day – much like America’s Independence Day – symbolizes the fall of tyranny and is a day filled with parades, fireworks, and patriotic celebrations.

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