The French people ‘will never forget,' present Legion of Honor
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An 87-year-old Brooklyn Heights veteran was presented with the French Legion of Honor — France's highest decoration — during a moving ceremony at West Point on May 8. The event honored 36 U.S. veterans for their service in France during World War II.
“It was an extraordinary honor, and I feel a little humble,” Norman Wasserman, a Henry Street resident, told the Brooklyn Eagle. Wasserman served in Europe in 1944 at age 18 as a member of the 286th Field Artillery Observation Battalion in General George S. Patton’s Third Army.
“The French appreciate being liberated by American troops, at such a high cost,” Wasserman said. “A three-star general from West Point made a moving speech, as did the French ambassador and the head of the French Legion of Honor.”
François Delattre, the French ambassador to the United States, presented the honor.
Winston Churchill described the Battle of the Bulge as “the greatest American battle of the war.” American soldiers, stationed in the Ardennes Forest region, were poorly supplied and surrounded when they took the brunt of a furious six-week German assault — during the coldest winter on record in Luxembourg.
Wasserman’s outfit was responsible for determining the location of enemy artillery during the struggle. “We used a pretty unique method,” he told the Eagle. “We surveyed using microphones set four sound-seconds apart. When the sound waves passed over the microphones, we relayed positions to firing units and knocked them out. We were pretty successful at it.”
The valor of American soldiers during this battle has been described as bringing about the “beginning of the end” of WWII, and as helping to define one of the greatest generations of Americans. U.S. casualties totaled 81,000, with 19,000 killed.
“All of my colleagues were a bunch of good soldiers,” Wasserman said. “We did something pretty important.”
His message to today’s generation is this: “The memory of the whole World War II period, how it started, progressed and ended — and the justice at Nurenburg — must be remembered and studied so we can learn not to allow the groundwork for such a catastrophe to occur again.”
In 2009, on the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Wasserman was one of six American veterans invited by the government of Luxembourg to participate in commemorative ceremonies in that country.
In an essay he wrote for the Brooklyn Eagle about that visit he said, “The people of Luxembourg have not forgotten. The momentous events of that period are indelible in their history, terrain, schoolbooks, museums, monuments, their vigils in December and their warm hospitality to Americans.”
In a letter to Wasserman, Ambassador Delattre wrote that Wasserman’s appointment as a “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor “testifies to President Sarkozy’s high esteem for your merits and accomplishments.
“In particular, it’s a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II. The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom.”