FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Beaches are often associated with peace and escape; tranquility provided by soothing waves and gentle breezes. Golden sunshine and clean sand between the toes are considered cure-alls to most worries associated with the hustle and bustle of modern day woes.
For many men, however, those are not the emotions or the memories that linger of the beach.
Instead of tranquility, racking machine-gun fire, blood and searing shrapnel; instead of soothing waves, shallow graves and air thick with sulfuric smoke from spent artillery shells.
This was the scene in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, “D-Day”: Stage to the largest amphibious assault in recorded history, and the beginning of the liberation of France during the German occupation.
In the 71 years since that day, many of the brave men who fought and survived D-day have passed away, but the legacy is commemorated through those still living and the efforts to recognize their valiant service through awards.
Fourteen World War II veterans from Florida who fought in the D-Day assault, or who were directly involved with the liberation of France, were awarded the French Legion of Honor, France's most prestigious decoration, to honor and commemorate exceptional service.
The honorees were Morris Edelstein, George Greenburg, Bob Inman, Joseph Klein, Murray Landers, Walt Lipiner, Jay Lavin, William Martini, Jesse Pearl, Sid Schildkraut, Wilfred Schonwetter, Seymour Seclow, Julian Wohfeld and Leonard Weiner.
Since 2004, resulting from an initiative started by French President Jacques Chirac, the French government has presented the Legion of Honor award to U.S. veterans who fought on behalf of allied forces during the landing on Normandy beach and aided in the liberation of France during the German occupation.
“We have to realize that what many of us know as ‘D-Day' was simply ‘Tuesday' for these men,” said Rear Adm. Cynthia Thebaud, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Two. “They fought bravely, they fought gallantly and ensured liberty, equality and fraternity.”
Bob Inman, formerly a signalman in the U.S. Navy, was aboard armored transport ship SS Sea Porpoise during the landing on Omaha and Utah beach.
“It's simply amazing,” said Inman. “It feels nice to be recognized, not only for myself, but for my daughter and for my wife. It is so different now than then. Now there may be a brief minute on the news or a short article in the paper, but a long time ago, when we freed France, it was absolute bedlam. Regardless though, I am thankful.”
World War II veterans, roughly 1.2 million in their 80s and 90s, are dying at a rate of more than 400 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Of those remaining, 95,000 are living in South Florida, which has one of the highest concentrations of WWII veterans in the country. Roughly 1,400 veterans in South Florida have been recognized with the Legion of Honor.
Morris Edelstein, formerly a technician fourth class in the U.S. Army, participated directly in the landing on Normandy and in other campaigns throughout World War II.
“Really, you can't be compensated,” said Edelstein. “The things that happened that day ... I left my friends there, but I still see them. This is for them, and it means more than I can really describe.”
Philippe L�trilliart, consul general of France, addressed the awardees with admiration and gratitude.
“Merci, merci, merci,” said L�trilliart. “I can assure you, beyond all assurances, that France will never forget what you did for us.”
The Legion of Honor ceremony was one of the last events of the week during Fleet Week Port Everglades. Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from five ships are participated in the 25th annual Fleet Week Port Everglades, a weeklong celebration and collaboration with the community of South Florida.
By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Wolpert
Provided through DVIDS
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