IOWA CITY — A prestigious French honor established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 was bestowed Friday on two Iowa City military veterans for their service decades ago as young men protecting France during World War II.
George R. Dane, 94, and Bob Laudie, 96, were presented with France’s knight of the Legion of Honor medal during a ceremony at Oaknoll Retirement Residence.
“The French Legion of Honor shows France’s eternal gratitude to all the veterans, and Mr. Dane and Mr. Laudie certainly deserve this prestigious decoration,” according to a letter from Vincent Floreani, consul general of France, read by retired Major Gen. Robert Sentman.
“You were ready to sacrifice your young life for France’s freedom, for a country that was not even yours. Now it is,” the letter states.
Created as a military and civil order of merit, the medal is considered the highest honor for those who “achieved remarkable deeds for France,” according to Floreani.
The medal features a while five-pronged Maltese asterisk with oak and laurel wreath backing. In the center is an effigy of Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic. Flags of France and the United States and the inscription “honneur et Patrie” or “honor and fatherland” decorate the back.
Laudie was a captain in the 323rd Bombardment Group and a navigator bombardier on the B-26 aircraft, participating in 73 combat missions in the early 1940s. He participated in attacks against strategic sites in France, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1943, and flew missions to bomb Utah Beach to support the Allied invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“It’s a great honor to receive from the French government,” Laudie said. “But I also regret all of the people who’ve passed away and couldn’t receive this honor — those that got killed during the war.”
Dane served as first lieutenant with the 28th Division, 110th Infantry Regiment and later rose to colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. Dane arrived at Omaha beach two months after D-Day and fought in major campaigns in Northern France, the Rhineland, and the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and 1945.
Dane also reflected on his lost fellow soldiers.
“The people that really deserve all of the thanks and credit are those guys that didn’t make it home,” he said.
Following the war, France has had seven decades of peacetime, according to Floreani’s letter. Former French Gen. Charles de Gaulle capped the knight award at 125,000 living members in 1962, Sentman said.
“It’s a distinctive club you’ve joined,” Sentman said.
About 50 people were on hand for Friday’s ceremony.
“It’s about as prestigious as it can get, this recognition from a country we helped protect,” said Gary Boseneiler, Veterans Affairs director in Johnson County.
Members of the Iowa City High football team and coaching staff attended as part of an effort to better appreciate and understand military service, which exemplifies principles of camaraderie, discipline and leadership, Coach Dan Sabers said. He asked Laudie to address the team before a military appreciation night game this fall.
Dane’s brother, John Dane, was also well-known public servant and military veteran.