On Thursday afternoon at the
Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Gardner will receive the National Order of the Legion of
highest decoration. He is one of 10 World War II veterans in the Southeastern
United States receiving the honor from Pierre Vimont, France’s ambassador to the United States, nearly 66 years after Normandy.
The long years between then and now
hardly diminish Gardner’s
feelings about the honor: “I was excited; I was elated’’ to know he will
receive the high honor after all those years.
landed on Utah Beach,
one of the two United States
assignments, the other being Omaha.
Three other beaches, Gold, Juno and Sword, were British and Canadian
assignments. This was Operation Overlord, under the command of Gen. Dwight D.
Eisenhower who later served two terms as president (1953-61). Overall, 175,000
Allied troops and 50,000 vehicles were on the beaches and the invasion of Europe was under way.
recalled his experience on Normandy
in a Monday Q & A of The Sun News: “It was, of course, frightening when
you’ve got people in concrete placements firing down at you as you came in, and
you had to cross 100 yards of open beach. ... Once we became consolidated on
the beach, we were able to move together as a unit and wipe out the Germans who
were facing us. We had to move inland and link up with the paratroopers from
the 82nd Airborne, who dropped in from the other side.”
In his book of “Stories of Faith
and Courage from World War II,’’ Myrtle Beach
author Larkin Spivey describes the situation: “The German units manning the
coastal defenses of Normandy
were well prepared ... and offered bitter resistance. … The high ground was
taken by the end of D-Day thanks to the initiative and courage of small-unit
leaders and individual soldiers.’’
It’s often been said of “The
Greatest Generation’’ that the soldiers of WWII were not at all talkative about
their war experiences in France, Germany or perhaps on a warship in the Pacific
or on an island such as Guadalcanal.
No doubt, many who served in
various branches of the military did not want to recall the war and declined to
talk when asked.
In The Sun News interview, Gardner offers a
different take. He didn’t tell his children about WWII because they didn’t ask.
“My kids have never asked me about the war. My grandkids have asked me about
it. … They had assignments in school, so I was picked as their hero to write
Thursday’s presentation of the
Legion of Honor is an appropriate way of thanking men such as Gardner for their courageous service in WWII.
The formal recognition after so many years is a vivid reminder of a period of
history that profoundly affected most of the world.
It’s also a gentle reminder for all
generations to, by all means, ask their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles
to share the experiences of their lives.