SAN FRANCISCO, April 6, 2007 (AFP) – France’s highest military decoration was awarded to a US World War II Army veteran on Thursday aboard a French Navy ship at port in San Francisco.
John Orofino stood at attention on the wind-chilled deck of the Frigate Prairial as French consul general Frederic Desagneaux praised his “extraordinary courage” and pinned a Medal of the Legion of Honor to his chest.
“As a French citizen, I’d like to thank you,” Prairial commander Frederic de Rupilly said, drawing a sword and holding it aloft during the ceremony.
“As a soldier, I’d like to pay tribute to you.”
Orofino, 83, was a US Army sergeant when his platoon was sent deep into German-held territory in France to perform reconnaissance for legendary US General George Patton.
Battle with Nazi troops wiped out part of Orofino’s platoon, including the ranking officers, and he took command.
Wounded during the fighting, Orofino nonetheless saved his remaining men and continued the mission, playing a key role in liberating the French city of Thionville in September of 1944, Desagneaux said while giving him the medal.
“I’d do it again,” Orofino said as Desagneaux embraced him.
France has Orofino and other brave allies in World War II to thank for its freedom, Desagneaux told those gathered on the ship.
“It is splendid,” 81-year-old French Legion veteran and career soldier Silvano Maxloum said of the honor paid to Orofino.
“France needs the United States and the United States needs France, especially the way things are now in the world.”
Created in l802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Legion d’Honneur is the top military award given for courageous service to France.