The French flag flew above the state Capitol Tuesday as five Connecticut war veterans were honored for helping liberate France 75 years ago.
“France will forever be grateful,” Anne-Claire Legendre, consul general of France in New York.
Legendre presented the prestigious French Legion of Honor Medal to four men and one woman who served on French soil during World War II.
“Their exceptional bravery their exceptional courage is a message to the next generation that we need to continue working together and fighting together for our shared values,” added Legendre.
The Legion of Honor Medal was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, to recognize military merit and is considered the highest distinction given to a French citizen or foreigner.
American Veterans’ Liaison Wayne Rioux helped petition for the recognition.
“To be able to do something like this for a veteran and to give them this kind of recognition and pageantry. You go home with a smile on your face saying, mission accomplished,” said Rioux.
The group of recipients included tail gunner Francis King, combat medic Ben Cooper, nurse Elsie Shultz, prisoner of war John Horan and transportation officer Ron Freeburger.
“I’m honored to know that something I did 70 years ago is still being remembered,” said Freeburger.
Ben Cooper of West Hartford wore his full World War II uniform to the ceremony.
“I am very honored to have this award. It brings back a lot of memories of a lot of the boys that sacrificed their lives to save humanity,” says Cooper.
Cooper, who also served in Germany, says he witnessed the horror of Nazi concentration camps.
“It was horrible. The scent of burning flesh permeated the whole area,” he said. “We had no idea what kind of camp it was. But we soon found out.”
Cooper says he couldn’t talk about the atrocities he witnessed for 45 years but now give speeches about it because he feels it’s important people know what happened.
“We’re all one,” he explained. “You can have different religions and different cultures but we all belong to the human race let’s try to remember that.”
Joining in the ceremony was Gov. Ned Lamont, who acknowledged the long standing alliance between the US and France. As he addressed each recipient today he thanked them and said, “we celebrate what you did in the name of freedom for both of our countries.”