June 28, 2007

France Honors WWII Hero In Colorado

Every now and then, France does the right thing:
FORT COLLINS - World War II veteran Bill Gordon leaned forward on his two canes Wednesday night so the French Legion of Honor medal, that nation's highest military honor, could be pinned to his lapel.

Then after looking around the room at 45 friends and colleagues who had gathered to honor him, he spoke of the people who were not present: the men of B Company who fought and died more than half a century ago to liberate France from the Nazis.

There were 142 men in B Company of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment when Gordon, a 24- year-old replacement platoon leader, began leading them through the Battle of the Bulge.

By the time he was sent to a stateside hospital after being shot twice, 14 men were left from the original unit.

"I know it's my honor, and I appreciate this great honor," Gordon, 85, a former Army colonel, told the audience at Nico's Catacombs restaurant, choking up a bit. "But I think I need to accept this on behalf of those men."

Phillipe Larrieu, the Los Angeles-based Consul General of France, pinned the bright red ribbon and green-flecked medal on Gordon after expressing his country's gratitude.

The ceremony was part of a program aimed at recognizing the anniversary of the landing of allied forces at Normandy in June 1944 by honoring about 100 U.S. veterans with distinguished records.

"France has not forgotten the American heroes of World War II," Larrieu said. "Col. Gordon, you embody the best of America, and on behalf of France and my fellow citizens, I would like to say, 'Thank you.' "
An appropriate gesture at a time when the two countries could use some diplomatic rapprochement:
Gordon said he has been pained by the strained relations between the two historic allies over U.S. policy in Iraq, he said.

"It's a great honor," he said of the medal. "But more than an honor, it's a reaffirmation of our great friendship."
Now that Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected, perhaps France and the United States can once again become more like allies and less diplomatic adversaries.

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