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January 20, 2013

Four local WWII vets bask in glow of French honors

— Four Limestone County World War II veterans fought the Germans across France with no thought of the honors that would someday come their ways.

Thursday, the Counsel General of France Denis Barbet presented the French Legion of Honor Decoration to the four aged warriors, Theo Calvin, Jack Hunter, Cal Bonner and Cliff Wilford, before 400 people in the Limestone County Event Center.

After the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” by soloist Emily King of Madison, Barbet said throughout his childhood he observed the “deepest gratitude” of the French people for the American liberation of their country.

“I myself am very touched to decorate these four veterans of World War II,” said Barbet. “When I was a child, I visited the beaches of Normandy as well as the American military cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, and I was able to measure the sum of courage necessary to cross the defense lines, a courage that was often paid for at the cost of life in order to liberate France and Europe.

“You embody this shared French-American history. You illustrate by your courage the friendship and shared values that so profoundly bind our two nations.”

Theo Calvin

Barbet spoke of Theo Calvin’s 1942 enlistment, after which he participated in the July 1943 Sicily invasion. Soon, Calvin shipped out for England where he prepared for the Normandy invasion as a gunner in the antitank company of the 395th Infantry. He landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, where most of the Allied casualties occurred.

In August 1944, Calvin participated in combat near Avranches in Normandy where he was seriously injured following German bombing.

“This did not stop you from helping the other 200 wounded soldiers before getting carried off, yourself, to a field hospital,” said Barbet.

After recovering Calvin returned to the battlefield near the Siegfried Line in November 1944. Calvin continued fighting in Belgium and Germany before returning home in Sept. 1945.

Now, adding the French Legion of Honor to his already awarded Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal and Distinguished Unit Badge, Calvin was asked what he felt about this latest honor.

“I’m honored, but I am also honored by another thing,” said Calvin. “The girl who was my escort on Honor Flight to Washington flew all the way from California today with her husband to see this.”

Calvin, a staff sergeant during WWII, has said in the past that the honors mean little compared to his pride in leading his command across Europe and “not losing a single man.”

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