France honors 34 WWII veterans with the Legion of Honor in Boynton and Tampa
In Boynton Beach, Florida, on the occasion of the Pearl Harbor 70th Anniversary Commemoration, Mr. Gaël de Maisonneuve, Consul general of France in Miami awarded the insignias of “Chevalier dans l’ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur” (Knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honor”) to twenty US veterans who fought alongside France during the World War II.
On December 8th, 2011, in Tampa, at the Macdill Air Force Base, the Rear-Admiral Martin, French Senior Representative at Centcom, the Consul general of France in Miami, Gaël de Maisonneuve, Captain Philippe Petitdidier and Retired Colonel Philippe Derathé will be decorating 14 World Wart II Veterans in the presence of Major General Horst, Chief of Staff of US Centcom, Major General Bill Gerety, Commander of the 80th training Command, Adjutant Paul Diehl representing Commander Bill Hamblin, Mr. Jean-Charles Faust, Honorary Consul of France in Tampa and Ms. Rose-Marie Maghriby.
WWII Veteran, Mr. Irving Locker who will be attending this ceremony gave us some time at the beginning of the week to answer to our questions. Here his answers and a previous article published in The Daily Sun.
e-Toile: Mr. Locker, almost 70 years ago, you were a young man ready to begin his career. Why did you decide to join the US Army in March 1943?
Irving Locker: I was taken right out of High school and drafted into the service with my two brothers and my three brother-in-laws. We were all drafted at the same time. As a woman you would fully understand that with all your children going off, the only hope you have is that they would come back home.
At the time, I lived in Jew Jersey and I knew only a little bit about France and Europe.
At school, we studied a little about Europe, but that was it. I found out through pictures and books and because I am Jewish, I became very interested and when Hitler began invading France. I began researching more.
e-Toile: What was your vision of France before landing on the French soil?
Irving Locker: At the time France was a beautiful country and ally to the U.S. and a wonderful country until Hitler came in and ruined it.
I was 19 years old when drafted and was already a Staff charger at the head of 65 men.
I had four 90-mm AA guns under my command that can shoot 6 miles up at a plane: the only gun that could go through a tank, a German tank.
We could shoot 6 miles over the enemy head any which way to knock out convoys or buildings that were blocking our infantry.
Even with a "good experience in war", as a 19-year-old staff sergeant with a full infantry under their command, the biggest thing I had in my mind was to stay alive.
e-Toile: You participated in the Normandy Landing, the one that is certainly the most vivid in the French people memory.
By doing so, you took part in the Liberation of Northern France before joining the Battle of the Rhine and the Battle of Ardennes.
What do you want to share with us about those very difficult times that are part of our shared history as French and Americans?
Irving Locker: I go to the schools and lecture to children and show them a memorabilia that I brought back to the United States: German swords, daggers and a German flag that I took off a wall in Berlin.
For instance, this week, I am speaking in a Barnes and Noble.
It is very important we do not forget.
They aren’t teaching it so much in the schools anymore. A lot of 15, 16 or 17 year-old kids do not know who Hitler was and they do not know what the Holocaust is.
When I talk about the Holocaust, they ask me about what it is. I have pictures that I took with my own camera of the concentration camps. I walk around and show them to people so they don’t forget.
In The Villages, Florida, where we have two different landing sections or clubs, they organize service and people come in.
I take all my memorabilia there to show people and you’d be amazed at how many grandmothers come with their grandchildren and want to take pictures.
So I’m doing all I can to promote “let’s not forget”.
e-Toile: In Tampa, on December 8th, one day Pearl Harbour 70th Anniversary, you are going to be recognized for your immeasurable effort: to have fought the Nazis and have restored peace in France and Europe. Having been highly recognized by American authorities does this recognition deliver a new dimension?
I’m thrilled and honoured to receive this award. I got another award from the French authorities in 1994. It is important to honour and to recall the past.
At the Battle of the Bulge, we lost 90,000 men in that battle alone.
I have a flag where all my men signed at the time and it’s amazing how many people recognize the name of their father, uncle or grandfather on there, so I try to contact them on the phone and many people will tell me that I brought their father or grandfather back to life.
Freedom is not free. I tell everybody that and keep that alive. What I want equally to share is the life of people at war.
How do they sleep? How do brush their teeth? And survive.
We had to jump off a little boat full loaded with 27 lbs on our back and a rifle and ammunitions. We lost so many men the water being rough. If you tripped and if someone was not standing next to you to pick you up you were too heavy to swim and you were gone with your rifle. The hat only weighs 3 lbs.
When we – the infantry - arrived on Utah Beach one day after Roosevelt’s son, we had 18000 lbs guns on wheels that we had to put on tracks.
We lived in the fields not in buildings. We dug holes ant we had to crawl in when the Germans started to bomb. They used anti-personnel bombs, which hit the ground like a hand grenade to cause more pain and destroy the equipment.
Because of the use of our firearms with no protection, 90% of my men are deaf in both ears. The shells we fired were so loud…Think about a shell that is 3 ft tall and weighs 45lbs and that you could shoot 30,000 ft into the air, you can imagine the noise.
We had to push the Germans back and every time we pushed them back we marched forward on mines to stop us or to slow us down. My job was to go first into the new territory and I would either have to drive cows or horses or whatever on to the land where I was going to put my guns, and if I didn’t have animals there I would have to drive the jeep over the land to make sure there were no mines there or different things to blow it up.
I went to Berlin and went to the death camps. I can tell they were killing Jews; they didn’t care who you were. If you were born a Jew, they would kill you. They had no reason to kill you but they did, and if you didn’t agree with them they killed you as well.
I try to make people understand.
Objects – my memorabilia - are a way to make people understand.
And I want also my comrades who are eligible to receive the Legion of Honour medal to apply. Soon, they will receive as well the award from the French Republic honouring the men who participated in the freedom of France.
To read the article published by the Daily Sun:
Article published in December 2011.