© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

France's Government Recognizes US Vets' Role On French Soil

Wilson Sayre

The Star-Spangled Banner was not the only national anthem sung at Tuesday’s Veterans' Day service at the University of Miami.

Philippe Létrilliart, the French Consul General, was a guest of honor at the proceedings, where he awarded three Legion of Honor medals to current South Floridians who fought in France.

The Legion of Honor is the highest decoration in France. It was created by Napoleon Bonaparte to recognize people with exceptional merit. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Douglas MacArthur were both recipients.

A decade ago, President Jacques Chirac decided to start bestowing the honor on all living American veterans who fought on French soil during World War II.

“I should have said only one word in French in this ceremony, which is 'merci,' ” said Létrilliart. “It’s our way to say 'thank you' to all the veterans.”

He talked about hearing families share their memories of the war as a kid. Growing up in Normandy, he says the American presence in the war is a key part of that narrative, instilling in him a debt of gratitude he holds to this day.

Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN
Fred Rosenkoff, one of the recipients of the Legion of Honor Medal.

 Fred Rosenkoff, 91, joined the Army in 1942 and is now one of about 1,300 veterans in Florida to receive the award. He was a technical sergeant in the 305th bombardment group, a gunner on a B-17. During his fifth mission, his plane was shot down over France and he spent a year and a half as a prisoner of war.

“I am dumbfounded,” Rosenloff said, “I never expected anything like this. We [just] did our job.”

He has fond memories of going back to France with his family years after the war and showing them where the camp was, reliving those memories surrounded by the future he at times didn't think possible.

In addition to the insistence that people extend appreciation and respect to those who have fought in the U.S. Armed Forces, Létrilliart suggested that friendship was another key principle to honor on Veterans Day.

“I want to insist on your role in building such a strong French-American friendship,” he said, addressing the WWII veteran. “It’s more than friends, it’s an alliance.”

He then reminded the crowd that the friendship dates back to Lafayette’s assistance in the American Revolutionary war.

“And then you came for us [during WWII],” Létrilliart says, “so this is a big achievement, a big moment of history you were part of. ... We will never forget what you have done for us.”