In my book, he’s always been a hero.
Now, the French government agrees.
Those of you that follow me on Facebook and Instagram saw the photos and articles I posted about a pretty great 4th of July holiday. My grandfather is a WWII veteran and received the French Legion of Honor Award aboard Battleship Texas. I mean, when Texas gives out awards, they go big.
Napoleon Bonaparte, who was then the First Consul of the First French Republic, instituted a new order as a way to recognize merit: the National Order of the Legion of Honor, which was meant to reward civilians and soldiers who had achieved great things in the service of France.
Since its creation, the award has never been abolished, and has remained the highest, most prestigious, decoration in France. This order is awarded solely as a recognition of merit or bravery, being open to men and women of all ranks and professions.
My grandfather was one of 19 men who received the award that day, some posthumously. Initially, my parents and I were just going to drive over and back for the big event (about a 6-hour endeavor), but after some talk and prayer, my parents, our whole family, my uncle and his family and a cousin all attended. We were quite the crew.
There’s not really a way to describe it, I don’t think, the whole “being in the presence” of such good and noble men who served our country. My grandfather is famous for saying, “I think every young man should serve a year in the armed services. It teaches you about life and reminds you the world is bigger than you are.”
This, coming from a 19-year-old tail gunner who flew 39 missions in World War II and crash landed twice. The average mission life of a tail gunner was 25 and their life expectancy? 25%. During the ceremony there were other tail gunners, a man who fought on the Normandy beaches, a former state trooper, oil men, school teachers, entrepreneurs. Each one stood up with pride and received their medal. But most, I think, had their crews at the forefront of their thoughts. At 90, my grandfather was one of the young ones there. His generation, the greatest one, is slowing fading into the history books.
But, on this 4th of July, he was front page news. And I couldn’t have been prouder. I’m so grateful my kids were able to witness that service and love of country. We need more of that.
In true French fashion, the ceremony ended with a champagne and croissant reception. They had the good stuff, too. The French consulate had a bottle in one hand and a pastry in the other. HA! Oh, and they had ice chests full of La Croix. We were all pretty much in heaven.
It was a great joy to hug the neck of my grandfather on such a special day. I won’t ever forget it. Love you, Papa.