As an expression of France’s eternal gratitude to those who liberated it from oppression from 1944-45, the Consul General of France in Atlanta, Louis de Corail, honored seven American World War II Veterans from Georgia and Tennessee with the French Legion of Honor during a ceremony at the capitol on Monday.
The National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest military honor in France. Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, it recognizes eminent services to the French Republic. Recipients of this honor are designated by the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron.
“I look forward to honoring these veterans for their bravery and courage, in the name of the French Republic. Their selfless service and sacrifice make them examples for posterity,” said Consul General de Corail.
The following veterans received the award in recognition of their courage:
- Josiah V. Benator from Atlanta, GA (First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion,10th Armored Division)
- Salvatore R. Pipitone from Athens, GA (First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 579th Squadron, 392nd Bombardment Group, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force)
- Alvin Werbalowsky from Atlanta, GA (Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 389th Bombardment Group, 420th Army Air Force Base Unit)
- Bernard M. Parker from Milledgeville, GA (Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company K, 376th Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division)
- Donald Seesenguth from Chattanooga (Captain, U.S. Army Air Corps, B-17 Bomber Pilot, 748th Squadron, 457th Bombardment Group, 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force)
Family members accepted the award for the following veterans, who have passed away since applying for the Legion of Honor:
- Edward W. Mercker from Marietta, GA (Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 325th Ferrying Squadron, 8th Air Force)
- Bruce E. Estes from Dallas, GA (Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 141st Infantry, 36th Infantry Division)
Here are Counsel Genral Louis de Corail's remarks:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My name is Louis de Corail, and I am the Consul General of France for the American Southeast. Having taken on this position just over a year ago it has been my pleasure to preside over a few of these ceremonies, and I must confess how deeply honored and moved I am every time to present the insignia of the Legion of Honor. Today, I will be presenting the medal to 7 American veterans of World War II in the name of the president of the Republic of France.
To begin, I would like to thank all of the veterans’ families and friends who have come from across Georgia and Tennessee to show their support and admiration. I would also like to recognize the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, the office of U.S. Senator David Perdue and the office of U.S. Congressman Jody Hice, which have sent representatives here today.
And of course, I’d like to sincerely thank Lisa Young for her beautiful and moving rendition of the American and French national anthems.
The National Order of the Legion of Honor was created by Emperor Napoleon in 1802 to recognize eminent services rendered to the Republic of France on the basis of personal merit. It is France’s most prestigious order. In fact, I cannot say enough to express in words the great deeds, outstanding achievements, devotion, bravery, sacrifices, inventions, and progress in every field of activity that the Legion of Honor has awarded and encouraged, as its founder hoped.
Today, we pay tribute to 7 American heroes who, more than 70 years ago, risked their young lives for the freedom of France and Europe. France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to their bravery and thanks to America.
What is the meaning of a ceremony like the one we are having today? One might think that this ceremony comes many years too late.
But it is never too late to pay homage to these veterans. It is never too late to recall the legacy of their courage and their fight for freedom in a time of darkness and despicable ideologies that came to power in Europe.
This year is special in that it marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I. In fact, as part of the World War I Centennial commemorations, I was in Montgomery, Alabama just a month ago honoring troops who served in the Great War, many of whom died on French soil.
Today we remember that the French-American friendship is bound in blood and that our two countries owe each other their very existence as free nations.
We remember that from Yorktown and the Revolutionary War to the battlefields of World War I and beaches of Normandy, the United States and France have always stood shoulder to shoulder to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy that we together gave the world more than 200 years ago.
Just as French and Americans were close allies during WWI and WWII, we remain close allies today in fighting against terrorism in Iraq, in Syria and in central Africa. The United States and France are close allies in addressing international threats and challenges, such as the fight against terrorism, which aims at destroying the very heart and foundation of our societies.
You embody this shared French-American history. You illustrated with your courage the friendship and shared values that so profoundly bind our two nations. We are gathered here to honor you.
In recognition of your heroic actions and extraordinary accomplishments, the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, nominated you to the Legion of Honor, with the rank of Knight.
Before officially bestowing you with this decoration, France’s highest honor, I would like to highlight your heroic deeds in France during World War II.
I will then present the medal of honor to Tim Estes who will accept the award on behalf of his late father and Mary Mercker who will accept the award on behalf of her late husband.
1/First Lieutenant Josiah V. Benator
You enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson in Atlanta in early 1943 and trained at Fort Gordon in Georgia. As part of company B of the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion you arrived in Cherbourg, France where you were part of the first American armored division to disembark on French soil directly from the United States. From there you trained in the Normandy countryside and came under fire in Mars La Tours. You also participated in the Ardennes campaign, including at Bastogne. By the end of the war, you had led a platoon in the Ardennes and the Central European Campaign.
In recognition for your service you were awarded with a Purple Heart, a Presidential Unit Citation, and the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 bronze service stars, among other awards.