WW II veterans awarded Legion of Honor at Frost Art Museum

Their faces were weathered and proud. On this day, they showed triumph.

On April 4 at FIU’s Frost Art Museum, eight World War II veterans earned recognition in a special ceremony presented by the Honors College and the Consulate General of France in Miami. More than two dozen students who took part in Professor John Bailly’s study abroad to France were part of the ceremony. The students have all visited the historic sites of World War II’s battles in France.

French Consul General Philippe Letrilliart awarded the American veterans for their exemplary service alongside French troops during World War II.

“Au nom du Président de la République Je vous fais Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur,” he repeated as he pinned the green and silver medal to each man’s chest and initiated him into the French Legion of Honor – a club that includes former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

“[This is] the greatest generation speaking to FIU’s generation,” said Bailly, known for bringing the realities of World War II to his students. “Every student in here will remember this event for the rest of their lives.”

Bailly, who was born in France, takes students to Normandy to walk along Omaha Beach, where Allied forces invaded German-occupied France. The students also visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and reflect on the war.

“After my study abroad experience in France, I had a deep appreciation of the men and women that fought in World War II,” said Kelly Knight ’12. “I saw with my own eyes the cost of the war.”

That knowledge prompted Knight, now a first grade teacher, to do something special for the veterans. She put the gravity of World War II into words a first grader could understand.

“I told them that bad people were hurting innocent people for who they were or what they believed in,” she said. “We won the war and the world was now a better place because of it.”

She asked them a simple question – “What do you want to say to our veterans?” – and recorded their answers for a video shown at the ceremony.

“Their responses were touching and innocent, yet they showed a deep understanding of the sacrifice that these men gave to our country,” said Knight of the thanks and good wishes the children offered.

One woman was so touched by the video that she thanked Knight for teaching her students about veterans’ sacrifices.

Command Sergeant Major William Zaiser of U.S. Southern Command pointed to the differences between World War II and today’s wars.

“They weren’t going for three to six month rotations. They were going for the duration of the war,” he said. Standing before them in admiration, he admitted, “I’m humbled.”

German Counsul General in Miami Juergen Borsch thanked the United States and its veterans for liberating Germany.

“Freedom has a taste,” he said. “It tastes like Hershey’s chocolate and peppermint chewing gum,” he said, referencing the American candies soldiers doled out to German children during the war.

Before the ceremony began, the veterans spoke one-on-one with FIU students. They regaled them with their stories of war.

“I asked them, ‘How many of you would volunteer to go into the service’,” said Sydney Levit. “Only three answered yes: two young women and a young man.”

Levit was surprised that the women outweighed the men – far different from when he served.

Veteran Robert Lamons was a World War II pilot and remembered that as a soldier he used to fly practice runs on the airfield that became FIU.

The other honored veterans included William Finley, Nicholas Fontana, Phillip Horowitz, Isidore Ifshin, Walter Lambert and Ives Wahrman.

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