Vive La France! 67 Years Later An American Infantryman Is Awarded The Legion d’Honneur
It’s been 67 years since American troops hit the beaches of Normandy and helped to liberate Paris during World War II, stoking a love affair between the average Parisian and GI Joe.
In the years since, the U.S.-French relationship has had ups and downs. One constant has been the French peoples’ high esteem for the Americans who fought to free their homeland from foreign occupation.
Today in Washington, one of those soldiers, Ernest Flinner of Hempfield, will be awarded a medal for his service in France.
An infantryman who was wounded, Flinner will be a guest in the French ambassador’s residence to receive one of the highest honors France bestows: the Legion d’Honneur, or Legion of Honor, created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
Flinner, 86, said he is “thrilled” by the honor.
“Many, many people who were in the service are entitled to it far more than I am,” said Flinner, a retired postal clerk. He quickly added, “I want that medal. I covet it.”
A recent spike in the medal presentations to Southwestern Pennsylvania veterans was spurred by Jean-Dominique le Garrec, France’s honorary consul in Pittsburgh.
“Of course, there are ups and downs” between his country and the United States, le Garrec said. But these are “minor irritants” in light of the French-aided American victory at Yorktown, which ended the American Revolution, and the liberation of France in World War II.
“The fact that millions of Americans came to the aid of France in the war will never be forgotten by the people of France,” said le Garrec, 58.
Le Garrec, who works in business development for Westinghouse Corp. in Cranberry, has waged a three-year campaign to identify local veterans who are eligible for the medal. The final determination of eligibility is made by the Legion of Honor Society in Paris, he said.
“It’s not a national policy of France or even a policy of the United States,” le Garrec said. “It’s more myself. I think because of the ages of the World War II veterans, if we don’t do this now, it will never happen.”