American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong received a prestigious medal Monday from a member of France's Assemble'e Nationale.
Dr. Claude Gatignol, who represents northwestern France in the legislative body, presented the medal in a ceremony at Chateau de l'Isle Marie, a historic manor near Chef Du Pont, where more than 250 U.S. soldiers were killed 68 years ago fighting in the Allied invasion that ultimately led to victory in Europe in World War II.
"This medal is important to remind us of the friendship between France and the United States," Dr. Gatignol said. "It can only be presented by a member of L'Assemble'e Nationale. The decision was mine."
Wong and American Legion National Auxiliary President Kris Nelson also received certificates of recognition and were made honorary members of Amis des Veterans Americains, a Normandy organization dedicated to the memory of the D-Day invasion and the sacrifices necessary to liberate France from German occupation in 1944.
No fewer than six living veterans of the invasion were at the ceremony Monday. Among them was Duaine "Pinky" Pinkston, a medic in the 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who was back in Normandy for the third time since the war. "We lost a lot of guys," he said, the sprawling meadows and hedgerows of the Cotentin Peninsula his backdrop. "One thing you notice now is that everything is so quiet. You ask yourself, 'What happened?'"
Pinkston remembers walking into one particular ambush 68 years ago when a German 88mm artillery round vaporized the soldier next to him. He also remembers those he saved, hundreds of them during the march to Berlin. He remembers, for instance, treating a man named Wally Crawford, who took three gunshots through the arm. There was Wendell Angel, badly wounded in the head, who Pinkston saved and handed off the beanie from inside his own helmet to keep the bandaged Angel from becoming an easy sniper target. "That was tough, giving up my beanie ... Those helmets were cold." He remembers patching up a radio man who got hit in the buttocks and the throat. Another, named Gus Sanders, who broke a leg in the Battle of the Bulge.
Years later, at various reunions, Pinkston has found many of his former battlefield patients, including Crawford, Sanders and Angel, alive, well and grateful.
The war, he said, "meant a lot to me. I saved a lot of guys. Then when I had heart bypass last September, they decided to return the favor. They all prayed for me. It worked out good that way."
After the successful operation, Pinkston, a retired GM supervisor and farmer from Michigan, decided, "well, maybe I will go back one more time."
Wong and Nelson are in Normandy this week to honor the invasion's 68th anniversary, along with hundreds of active-duty troops, officers, veterans and French citizens who vow they will never forget the cost of their freedom.