To culminate this year’s Fleet Week Port Everglades, 10 World War II veterans who served in France were honored Sunday in a ceremony that brought together current and future members of the military.
The veterans were given the red ribbon that symbolizes France’s highest distinction: La Légion d’honneur - The French Legion of Honor.
But the future generation of military servants also was honored as a dozen students from Broward were recognized for receiving the nominations to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.
“This was the most meaningful part of what I have experienced this entire week,” said Susan Clemons of Fort Lauderdale. “I loved seeing the history of the heroes and the tie to the next generation. There were 100 years of military history sitting right in front of us.”
The idea to bring together the past, present and future generations of military came from the Consulate General of France in Miami, who has honored about 300 veterans in Florida this year, and the organizers of Fleet Week Port Everglades.
“This celebration serves as a reminder of how grateful we are towards all branches of United States Military Service,” said French consul general Gaël de Maisonneuve.
“You get so much history when you talk to them, looking at their eyes, hearing what they have to say, knowing what they have done.”
The number of people honored in Florida has been increasing by about 100 veterans per year, said Maisonneuve, who regularly gives the awards for civil or military action in service to France.
The Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. In 2004, President Nicolas Sarkozy started a program to reward Americans who took part in any of the French campaigns.
“It feels really good that other people recognize all of what we went through in France,” said veteran Hiram Duncan, who treated and helped transport the wounded soldiers in the Normandy Landings. “I took care of the guys, our commanders told us to treat the wounded and that’s what we did. We felt good to get people out of there.”
And as the veterans shared their stories, the aspiring military generations listened, got advice and shook hands.
Seeing the veterans made Destiny Harrell from Cooper City High School realize that it is possible for her to also accomplish such a great honor.
“It’s really humbling to see them and realize how much they have done for this country and for France,” said 17-year-old Harrell. “Hopefully I can do and accomplish half of what they have done.”
Despite the announcement that the Navy would not bring its vessels to this year’s Fleet Week activities due to sequestration cuts, the local organizers did their best to continue with events, and decided to focus on military members serving in South Florida.
“We got a chance to do a little bit more than if the fleet was here. We stood out a little bit more,” said Sergeant Michael Mosely from West Palm Beach. “If the ships were here, everyone would have been on the ships.”
In the center of this year’s activities were the United States Southern Command, U.S. Coast Guard Seventh District, Navy Operational Support Centers West Palm Beach and Miami, local recruiting offices and reserves based in South Florida.
“We could have canceled but we decided to take this as an opportunity and not a disappointment,” said J.W. Arnold, spokesperson from Broward Navy Days. “We joke that’s it’s the feetless fleet week, but we had every event that we would have in a normal year and we’ve had a great time.”
Veteran Jack Goldenberg, 91, from Boca Raton agreed. He carried the diary where he documented his experiences during the war, wore his Army cap and jacket and proudly received his honor.
“This is the nicest award I’ve ever gotten,” Goldstein said.
For information on how to apply to be awarded The French Legion of Honor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.