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Patriot Award goes to French survivor of Normandy occupation

September 1, 2016

Bernard L. Marie of Roanoke, Va., has helped more than 150 U.S. World War II veterans obtain the French Legion of Honor recognizing the life-or-death commitments they made to free Europe from Nazi occupation. Wednesday morning at the 98th American Legion National Convention in Cincinnati, Marie watched as two more veterans who served in the war’s European theater more than seven decades ago received France’s most prestigious decoration.

Shortly before that ceremony, however, it was Marie’s turn for recognition. American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett presented the international business leader with the 2016 Patriot Award “for a lifetime of devotion to veterans of World War II.” Marie, a dual U.S.-France citizen, was a boy of 5 living with relatives on the Normandy coast when the Allies launched their historic invasion; Marie’s father was in the French resistance at the time.

The invasion has been a part of Marie’s life ever since he huddled in the dark basement of his grandfather’s home in Luc-sur-Mer near Omaha Beach listening to the sirens and feeling the thunder of heavy shelling from the sea and bombardment from the air.

In 1984, Marie was owner of a business publication in Indiana and, after he learned nothing else was planned there to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, he hosted a luncheon. It was attended by 645 veterans. From that moment on, Marie’s own commitment to remembrance grew as he continued his business career and moved from place to place around the world. He continued serving annual dinners and luncheons for World War II veterans around the country, arranging trips to France for them, and helping ensure that their achievements are not forgotten. He was actively involved in the 2001-unveiled National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., and continues to honor veterans in Normandy. “I pledged in 1984 that I will do this until no one is left alive,” he said. “For me, the greatest generation shall never be forgotten,” Marie told the convention crowd.

Wednesday’s session provided an opportunity to honor two more veterans who fought for the liberation of France. General Consul of France (Chicago) Vincent Floreani pinned John Kunnen, a light tank crew member who fought across Europe after the D-Day invasion, with the decoration onstage. The other recipient, Walter Miller, who was wounded after parachuting into Ste. Mere-Eglise, Normandy, on June 6, 1944, was scheduled to receive his Legion of Honor at the same time, but he passed away Tuesday. Upon learning of Miller’s illness, the French Consulate attempted to make arrangements to present him the award at a hospital in Cincinnati, but time ran out. The veteran’s son, Walter Miller, Jr., accepted the medal on his father’s behalf.

“To the French people, American veterans are heroes,” Consul General Floreani told attendees of the national convention. “The D-Day Normandy landing changed the course of the history of humanity. Victory was still far away. There was still much suffering to come. But hope was alive again, at last… From June 6, 1944, they fought bravely, battle after battle, across France. Many did not return, but they are in our hearts.”

Marie, a French beneficiary of the Allied victory in Europe, grew up in freedom, served in the French Army and later moved to the United States where he founded Penta Corp., an international consulting firm specializing in business development in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Out of that came Software World, a company that developed foreign language education software. Along the way, Marie owned the Indiana Business Magazine and had multiple other entrepreneurial ventures. Today, he divides his time between homes in Paris and Virginia.

“As the decades passed, he never forgot the sacrifice that America made on behalf of his native country,” Commander Barnett said.
Consul General Floreani likewise praised Marie for helping so many World War II veterans receive the Legion of Honor and keeping the story of their commitment alive.

 

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