The Consul General of France in Atlanta, Denis Barbet, bestowed the French Legion of Honor Medal upon eight WWII veterans on April 3.
The veterans accepting France's highest honor were no longer young soldiers. Many relied on wheel chairs; one survives on oxygen; another just released from a hospital the day before after receiving treatment for congestive heart failure. But the years had not dampened their spirit. These aging warriors enjoyed their day.
Fredrick P. Wiley of Social Circle was one of the recipients. Private First Class Wiley landed D-Day +1 (June 7, 1944) on a still unsecured Omaha Beach with the 29th Infantry Division, 175th Infantry Regiment, Company G. The 29th suffered more casualties on Omaha Beach than any other American unit. And the worst was yet to come.
PFC Wiley and the 29th seized their first objective, the village of Isigny, before crossing the Vire River into the infamous hedgerow country of France. Fighting hedgerow through hedgerow, the 29th seized their next objective, the town of St Lo. Wiley recalled, "The 29th took more casualties at St Lo than we did on Omaha Beach." One position of high ground, Hill 108, earned the nickname ‘Purple Heart' hill.
Wiley stated, "About two or three days later an explosion took me out of the fight, most likely a rifle grenade." When asked if his war was over, he said, "Shoot no, once I recovered they made me an MP and sent me back to France."
Clarence "Bud" Sosebee of Conyers, dressed immaculately in his WWII uniform, smiled ear to ear as the Consul General pinned the Legion of Honor Medal next to his many other decorations. "I'm still excited about the recognition," Sosebee said. "I'll always remember the French people as being helpful and kind to me. This is, indeed, an honor." A member of Headquarters Company, 271 Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, Sosebee saw extensive combat and met up with the Russians at the River Elbe.
"I just did my part in the war," he said. "We all did."
Other recipients: Vincent Masters of Athens, a B-17 pilot who ended up in the ‘drink' for 24 hours with his crew, before making the transition as a squadron commander of P-51 Mustangs. William Spartling of Athens served as a Navy officer aboard the destroyer USS Eberle.
Emmett Cabe of Lindale, Ga. served aboard the LST 370 ferrying British soldiers onto Gold Beach on D-day. Johnson Brown of Cumming had the dangerous job of transporting American boys onto Omaha Beach with LCIs (landing craft, infantry).
Marcie Dover of Winder and Phillip Pollock of Athens served as infantrymen during the D-Day Invasion.
My wife and I were honored to witness this outstanding event, but one thing that impressed me was the tremendous turnout of Newton and Rockdale County residents to observe this ceremony and personally thank The Greatest Generation for their contribution in preserving our freedoms.
Even more inspiring was watching young people shake the hand, or gently pat a veteran on his arm, and say, "thank you, sir," or, as one youngster told a veteran, "you are my hero."
These men had earned the recognition. Frederick Wiley, Bud Sosebee and the others came home to begin their new lives, with dignity, honor and the independence that made America the envy of the world We may never see their likes again.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at email@example.com or aveteransstory.us.