WWII veteran awarded French Legion of Honor, Consulate seeks vets who ‘fought on French soil’
D-Day began the liberation of German occupied western Europe and George Sarros was there. On Dec. 7, he received the “highest merit” for “exemplary services rendered to France.”
GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - One of the darkest days in our nation’s history remembered today. It’s been 81 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor preceded America’s involvement with World War II. And over the course of the war, 10 million men would be drafted and serve.
D-Day began the liberation of German occupied western Europe and George Sarros was there. On Wednesday, he received the “highest merit” for “exemplary services rendered to France”.
97-year-old George Sarros was a teen headed the movies on Dec. 7, 1941. A night of fun in Chicago, cut short.
“They were just dropping death bombs,” he said. “We were devastated.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor, left over 2,400 American’s dead. It also killed American isolationism. America declared war on Japan on Dec. 8, 1941 and Japanese allies Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. In 1943, Sarros would become one of the 10 million men drafted.
“I had no idea what was going to happen to me,” Sarros said. “Whether I was going to survive, whether I was going to live.”
He was a Navy third class motor machinist, and the engine room of the LST 515 was functioning properly. The ship transported troops, tanks and cargo.
“Four hours on, and eight hours off,” he said.
In April 1944 while training in England, Sarros was introduced to the brutality of war.
“I saw one ship explode, I saw another ship explode, and then I saw another ship explode,” he said.
A German torpedo struck American vessels. Sarros estimates approximately 1,000 were killed. But he and his men worked tirelessly to save the injured.
“We picked up survivors, not realizing what we were going to get into,” he said.
Then came D-Day, the invasion of northern France at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
“The ambulances were coming and we were picking them up and putting them in the tank deck,” Sarros said.
The LST 515 transported both injured troops and enemy POWs from the beaches of Normandy. A daunting trip he made approximately 65 times across the English Channel.
“And we had to worry about (enemy) submarines,” Sarros said.
D-Day began the liberation of France and the Germans control over western Europe.
“Seeing all the people that got killed. And how all the French people suffered so much,” Sarros said. “I just felt grateful that I survived.”
On Dec. 7, Sarros was awarded the French Legion of Honor Award and Medal, the highest French distinction, bestowed by Anne-Laure Desjonquères the Consul General of France in Atlanta.
“It’s a way to show that we remember,” said Desjonquères. “We remember what America did to free Europe and France. It’s an illustration of the French-American friendship and the fact that we share the same values of democracy and freedom. That we fought together and we continue to fight together to uphold these values.”
The Consulate General of France is actively seeking American WWII veterans who fought on French soil. This is of significant importance, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, regardless of location, only about 167,000 are still alive today.
“We bestowed it on hundreds of such veterans, but we are always looking for new veterans to whom we could bestow this honor,” Desjonquères said.
“We can’t imagine what they went through back then, absolutely no comprehension of that. But I’m appreciative of him and his existence today,” added Rep. Mike Clampitt, NC House District 119. “I hope that this would be some kind of inspiration to the youth of today and future generations.”
The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas worked with the consulate to ensure Sarros was honored. Sarros says the victory in France and Europe is much bigger than one man, and one service. But a victory in American ingenuity.
“I don’t feel worthy of all this,” he said. “Our county just manufactured everything – planes, boats and ships, when you stop and think about what happened at Pearl Harbor (we said) ‘How are we going to survive.’”
Sarro also supported efforts in the Battle of the Bulge. He completed his military service in 1946.
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