For more than 80 years, Gardnar Mulloy has been known for his tennis prowess.
But on Tuesday, the consulate general of France in Miami will award Mulloy the French Legion of Honor at his Miami home, the highest distinction in France, for his naval service during World War II.
Beginning on the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, then-president of France Jacques Chirac decided to give the award to all American veterans who served in France.
Mulloy, who will be 102 in November, served in the U.S. Navy for four years when he was 26, rising in the ranks to a lieutenant and commanding officer of a tank landing ship — USS Alameda County (LST-32). His ship participated in the invasion of Southern France in August 1944.
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“We were all put to the test,” Mulloy said last week at his Miami home. “There was so much danger and so much death.”
He’ll be the oldest recipient of the award since it was created by Napoleon in 1802. That’s a familiar title for Mulloy, who also is the oldest living member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, one of nine halls that have honored him.
He had a most interesting military career
Jacqueline Mulloy, wife of Gardnar Mulloy
In his 75 years of playing tennis he’s racked up 127 national championships and 25 international titles. A Miami native, Mulloy attended Miami High and the University of Miami for undergraduate and law school. He lives on a stretch of Northwest Ninth Avenue in Miami rechristened Gardnar “Gar” Mulloy Drive in his honor.
Florida is the most active state for awarding veterans the French Legion of Honor. More than 1,400 veterans have received the award, about 300 every year since 2011.
“He participated in the fight against the Nazi barbarity, and it’s an honor for us to recognize him,” said Nathalie Cluzet-Bertot, press attaché for the Consulate General of France in Miami. Cluzet-Bertot said her organization finds veterans through the state department and veterans organizations, as well as online applications.
Veterans who believe they qualify can apply on the French Legion of Honor website, as Mulloy’s wife, Jacqueline, did.
“He had a most interesting military career,” she said.
Mulloy earned the U.S. Navy medal of commendation for a mission in which his ship saved a stranded Greek ship from crashing into rocks. His fleet started the war with 36 ships, but only five, including Mulloy’s, survived.
“He was told not to go help them, but he disobeyed orders and did it anyway,” his wife said.
Veterans like Mulloy deserve this honor, said Cluzet-Bertot, and she is proud to bestow it on them.
“Thanks to their courage we now have a free Europe and a free people,” she said.
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