NC World War II veterans receive France's top honor
Posted February 3, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Eight World War II veterans were honored Tuesday at the North Carolina Capitol with France's highest honor for sacrifices they made for fighting on French soil.
The French government chose the men as recipients of the French Legion of Honor medal after months of researching foreign soldiers who helped free the country from Nazi occupation.
Most of those honored Tuesday said they had refused, for years, to talk about their service because it was too painful to relive.
But they remembered with pride Tuesday.
For Donald R. Judd, 90, of Burlington, the honor came as a surprise.
"At this point in our life, it's a tremendous honor for us to still be recognized for something we did 70 years ago," he said.
Judd said that all he could think about during the ceremony was the moment he and his fellow soldiers heard the war was over, realizing he had survived against the odds.
"We were hysterically happy, but then, almost on cue, we all started crying, and we couldn't stop," he said. "We hugged each other and so forth and realized that we had made it. And we’re alive and going to go home."
He said he has gone on to live another life, had a career and raised a family.
In addition to Judd (private first class, 36th Infantry Division), those honored Tuesday were:
- Harold L. Eatman, of Matthews (technical sergeant, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 513th Parachute Infantry)
- Fernnie C. Letchworth, of Sharpsburg (staff sergeant, Headquarters Battery, 602nd Glider Artillery Battalion)
- James D. Seitzer, of Chapel Hill (sergeant, Company E, 324th Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division)
- Julien G. Highsmith, of Brasstown (seaman first class, Landing Ship Tank 503)
- Charles Di Maria, of Greensboro (private first class, Battery C, 633rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion)
- James M. Hamby, of Valdese (private first class, Headquarters Battery, 29th Field Artillery Battalion)
- Leonard E. Bernard (first lieutenant, 93rd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force)
Tuesday's honors are not the first for service members from North Carolina. Last year, 14 received the Legion of Honor medal.
North Carolina played a prominent role and paid a heavy price in World War II, losing nearly 9,000 soldiers along the way.