Story and photos by Hal Goodtree.
Raleigh, NC – “France is what it is today – sovereign and free – because of the bravery of these men,” said Pascal Le Deunff, Consul General of France, to a crowd of about 200 at the State Capital in Raleigh today.
French Legion of Honor
The occasion was a ceremony honoring ten United States veterans of World War II for their service in the liberation of France from Nazi Germany.
M. Le Deunff had traveled from his consulate in Atlanta to personally thank the veterans and pin the Legion of Honor medal on each man.
“You will be our heroes forever,” the Consul General of France told the American veterans.
The Legion of Honor is France’s highest award. Recipients received the rank of Chevalier or knight.
When We Were Young
Elaine Marshall, North Carolina Secretary of State, and Lt. Governor Walter Dalton gave opening remarks. Along with M. Le Deunff, they all spoke of events more than sixty years in the past.
The invasion of Normandy, the liberation of Paris, crossing the Rhine – the events described seemed like something out of a black and white newsreel.
But in the eyes of the old men in uniform dotting the room, you could see they remembered. They remembered running for cover on Utah beach. They remembered parachuting into St Mere Eglise behind enemy lines and sharing American cookies with French orphans on Christmas Day in 1944.
Col. Hal Shook
The veterans receiving the honor on Tuesday ranged in rank from Private to Colonel.
Colonel Hal Shook of Cary was the second in rank to receive his award. The Consul General recalled that Shook flew close air support for ground troops on D-Day in 1944. During the next year, as the Allies rolled up the Nazi empire, Shook flew 105 combat missions.
Colonel Shook continued his military career as a combat pilot in Korea and Vietnam. He was joined by his wife and family for the honor.
The Greatest Generation
Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation.”
Standing in the old State Capital on Tuesday, it was hard to disagree.