Among his numerous missions and activities, the Ambassador of France to the United States regularly honors American veterans of the two world wars. Paying tribute to those men is a way to express France’s gratitude toward those who risked their lives—and in many cases, gave their lives—defending liberty. After submitting an application, most American veterans who served in France during World Wars I and II are inducted into the Légion d’honneur, or Legion of Honor.
The French Legion of Honor is an order of distinction first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in May of 1802. It is the highest decoration bestowed in France and is divided into five categories: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross). The highest degree of the Order of the Legion of Honor is that of Grand Master, which is held by the sitting President of the Republic.
Foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may receive a distinction from the Legion of Honor. American recipients include Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Michael Mullen, and even, as an institution, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Today there are approximately 93,000 Legion of Honor recipients. American veterans who risked their lives during World War II and who fought on French territory qualify to be decorated as Knights of the Legion of Honor. Veterans must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France.
In a special ceremony on Veteran's Day, November 11, 2005, five veterans of General Patton's Third Army in WWII were awarded a medal and certificate of the commendation by the Israeli government in New York City at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a living memorial to the Holocaust. This is the first time any American WWII veteran has been awarded a medal of this type by the Israeli government. The Anniversary medals in remembrance of victory in Germany have been awarded in the past only to Jewish fighters against the Nazis.
The medals were awarded to four veterans of the 65th Infantry Division and one veteran of the 71st Division. The veterans of the 65th Infantry Division were Ray Callanan (Co. G, 260th), Maynard Hanson (565th Signal Co.), Lynn LaBarre (Deceased- Co. A, 265th Eng. Bn.) and Robert Patton (Hq. 2nd Bn. 261st). The veteran from the 71st Infantry Division was Mickey Dorsey (Calvary Recon Troop).
In early May 2005, these veterans retraced the route taken by their divisions 60 years ago, in WWII. While they were in the Passau, Germany area they attended the first public Jewish Sabbath service ever held in the history of the city. This was the early childhood home of Adolph Hitler. In nearby Pocking, Germany, they participated in the dedication of a new monument at the Children's Cemetery where the deceased children of inmates in the nearby concentration camps were buried. They were also present for the commemoration event at the Shoah Memorial and Tolerance Event in Passau.
Miriam Griver-Meisels, President of Hadassah Israel, was also present at these ceremonies. Her father, Rabbi Meisels, had been liberated 60 years ago from one of the concentration camp in the area by units of the 65th and 71st Infantry Divisions. She was so moved by meeting these American GI's who had returned to the area 60 years later, that she returned to Israel and asked the government to honor these soldiers for their participation in fighting against the Nazis in WWII while commemorating the memory of the Jewish resistance in the war against the Nazis. Her request as approved by the Israeli Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz. As there was not an Israeli Embassy in New York, Ms. Griver-Meisels delivered the medals personally to the museum.
The medals and certificates of the commendation were presented to the veterans on November 11, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage by Amir Ofek, Consul for Public Affairs from the Israeli Consulate. In attendance at the ceremony were several surviving inmates of the concentration camps in Germany and Austria.
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