Col. Keith Nightingale presents the national commander with an honorary membership to the Friends of American Veterans during a ceremony in Sainte Mere-Eglise, France. (Photo by Jeff Stoffer)

Commander honored in Normandy

 American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz and American Legion Auxiliary National President Peggy Thomas joined a number of World War II veterans and others Saturday in receiving honorary memberships to Amis des Veterans Americains, an organization in Normandy, France, that coordinates annual remembrances of the D-Day invasion.

Koutz was one of few American representatives of the military community in Normandy to receive gratitude of the French people for the liberation of their country after four years of Nazi occupation in 1944. The 69th anniversary of that liberation occurred this week.

The commander vowed to communicate with the White House, the Pentagon and members of Congress to see why U.S. military representation was so scant at the 69th anniversary of the invasion. More than a dozen D-Day veterans were on hand for ceremonies in Normandy.

Koutz said he planned to correspond with top U.S. leaders to determine why paratroopers were not sent to Normandy to conduct training jumps over the Merderet River valley and why no honor guards nor officers were present at ceremonies to honor those who were part of the invasion that led to the end of World War II.

"I am pleased to receive an honorary membership to the AVA, but the real honor belongs to those who risked their lives, or gave their lives, in the battle that ultimately brought an end to the Third Reich," Koutz said. "It is vital to new generations that we never forget those who paid in blood for the freedoms we enjoy. It is a lesson for all to understand, regardless of their war era."