Two local men – U.S. Army veterans, Robert Tronge, 87, of Hillman, MI and James Sloan, 89, of Daytona Beach, recently received the French Legion of Honor medal for their military service from the Consulate General of France in Miami and The Alliance Francaise of Greater Orlando.
The Legion of Honor medal was created two centuries ago in 1802 by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and is France's highest honor of distinction recognizing exceptional military service to France in various fields. The award now honors the Americans who helped France fight against the Nazis and liberate it from its occupied status. On the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, France granted the Legion of Honor to all the U.S. veterans who fought on French soil during WWII.
"It's never too late to thank someone, and I am honored in receiving the Legion of Honor medal," Sloan said in a telephone interview.
Sloan, who spent his childhood in what he calls, "down home in Mississippi," was drafted in the fall of 1943 during his sophomore year of college and boarded a bus to Camp Shelby, Miss. He joined the other young men drafted from the ROTCs in the Southeast forming a battalion and shipped off to Fort Eustace in Virginia.
After boot camp and training at the Marshaling Point in Southern England for several months in 1944, Sloan remembers finishing KP duty, put on a full field pack which included 80 pounds of gear and a machine gun and then descending a rope ladder down to the landing crafts. Sloan and his buddies were just 12 miles off the shore of Omaha Beach, France, in a craft holding 12 men including the Coast Guard pilot.
As the dawn broke on June 6, Sloan began hearing gunfire as planes flew overhead and saw parachute fighters dropping behind enemy lines. When they got within a mile of the beach, the Germans started firing everything they had. Sloan remembers manning a machine gun and after three days of ferocious fighting, the Allied Forces managed to mount the cliffs and took out the Nazi pillboxes and captured Omaha Beach.
"I don't know how I survived, so many didn't," Sloan said.
In a separate interview, Tronge expressed his sentiments, "I'm proud to accept this medal, especially since I was only 18 years old at the time."
Tronge enlisted in the Army at 18 and went to Fort Devins, Mass., and later fought in the Battle of Normandy with the 204 Anti Aircraft, 1st Army. Following the battle, he served another 26 months in Europe mainly in northern France, Luxembourg and Germany.