RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A moving ceremony took place Wednesday at the state capital where a trio of World War II vets were given France’s highest award.
The Legion of Honor medal was bestowed upon the three for helping to liberate France during World War II.
As the French national anthem echoed across the Old Capital Building, memories of three vets echoed across time – those were memories of sacrifice during the campaign to take Occupied France back from the Nazi Germany.
“It snowed for two weeks. A lot of boys lost their feet and legs” said 93-year-old John Dewitt Waters who was referring to his ordeal during the Battle of the Bulge.
“I don’t know how we made it out really. The first night over there our ship got four holes blown in it. I wondered if I was going to get back alive,” said 92-year-old Irvin Price.
“It was awful,” recalled Waters. “So many buddies getting killed every day.”
The streets where tanks once rolled are now filled with tourists in a free France, which was made possible by men like the three honored Wednesday.
The trio recalled beachhead landings under fire and battles where they fought for every inch of ground.
For many years, those experiences and more were kept private and tucked away.
“Those guys kept it inside all these years,” said Michael Waters, who is the son of Medal Recipient John DeWitt Waters. “This is quite an honor for them to receive it.”
France considers them heroes.
“The ones who are the heroes are the ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said 91-year-old Earnest Moore.
“There are so many cemeteries over there,” Waters added as his eyes filled with tears.
As the honor was bestowed on each man individually, it was an experience none of them could have foreseen 73 years ago as they battled the enemy in an attempt to win and stay alive.
Irvin Price said he never realized how important an event it would be.
“I was just a 17 year old running up and down the beach.” he said. “It didn’t scare me – I was just a teenager.”
A teenager perhaps, but one of the millions of soldiers who helped save the world.
The National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest honor in France. It was Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and recognizes eminent services to the French Republic.
France does not bestow the Legion of Honor lightly.
The military history of each recipient is carefully researched before they are invited to receive the award.