US veteran visits landing beaches ahead of French medal recognition

An American veteran who visited the D Day beaches ahead of being awarded France’s top honour said the medal is the “best one to get”.

Harold Johnson, 97, served in France with the 82nd Airborne Division and returned to the country for the first time to be presented with the French Legion of Honour.

He is due to be receive the award in a ceremony at the US cemetery in Colleville Sur Mer, overlooking Omaha beach, on Thursday, 75 years after D Day.

Mr Johnson, from Hobart, Indiana, said: “I was drafted, I had to go to war, and I volunteered as a paratrooper.

“I’ve got five battle stars, three invasions and two purple hearts for being wounded in action.

“I’m happy to get any medal – that’s why I wear the ones I’ve got.

“And it (the French Legion of Honour) is the best one to get, I guess.”

He visited the US memorials at Omaha beach, where US troops landed on D Day.

Among those paying tribute on the beach was serving US soldier First Sargent Joseph Cole, who had collected a bottle of sand as a memento to his great uncle, who was among those who went ashore on D Day.

He said: “I wanted to take the sand back for my grandmother because her brother, my great uncle, stormed the beaches of Normandy.

“He was very reserved about what happened and he had a hard time talking about it.

“He talked most about all the men together, they worked together for the greater good, he never made it about what he did personally.

“He believed in what he was fighting for.”

D-Day 75th anniversary
D-Day 75th anniversary

Sargent Cole was on his first visit to the landing beaches, along with his colleague, Captain Genevieve Maldonado, where their unit, the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Airborne, is taking part in the D Day commemorations, including flying Chinooks and Black Hawks.

Capt Maldonado said: “It’s an honour to be here, especially for our unit which was here and stormed the beaches at the time.”