The French government is bestowing its highest decoration, the Légion d’honneur (Chevalier grade), on Thomsen for his service in France during the war. And an official ceremony in early 2011 is being planned by the French consulate general in Atlanta.
“I think it’s pretty nice, but it’s kind of late after the war,” Thomsen said.
Born in Copenhagen, Thomsen immigrated with his family as a 3-year-old to New York. He was raised in the Bronx and after the Peal Harbor attack, enlisted in the Army. Following training at Fort Benning, he participated in D-Day as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, helping to liberate France from Nazi Germany. He later marched in a parade in the streets of Paris.
“The commander said, ‘Some of you guys are going to come back and some of you guys are not coming back,’” Thomsen recalled of the historic invasion.
On D-Day, Thomsen landed in Normandy behind enemy lines in an engineless glider with three other troops, a jeep and anti-tank gun, with a mission to hold a bridge that was 13-miles inland from the sea, until other GIs relieved them, which they did, said his son Todd Thomsen of Marietta.
“His story on D-Day is that he never got his feet wet and never shot his gun,” said Todd Thomsen, 53.
The Bronze Star is among an array of medals that Axel Thomsen earned during his war service.
In 1948, Axel Thomsen was discharged from the Army as a technical sergeant. Like most GIs, he got on with his life. He was married for 62 years to Muriel Thomsen, who died three months ago from pancreatic cancer. He retired as a supervisor at a New Jersey smelting and refinery facility before the couple moved to Georgia 25 years ago, as a result of Muriel’s job at Shell Oil Company.
Today, Axel Thomsen enjoys collecting stamps and spending time with his two sons, including the eldest Thomas Thomsen of New Jersey, six grandchildren and a great-grandson.
The French Republic has opened up its prestigious Legion of Honor award — created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte — to among others, Americans who served the country in World War II.
Ron Mazzola, senior vice commander of Smyrna’s American Legion Post 160, helped facilitate the process on behalf of Axel Thomsen. He said veterans such as Axel Thomsen should receive such honors while they are still living.
Other post members awaiting confirmation of the medal, said Mazzola, from the French government are: Ralph Ardito, 87, of Marietta; Leon “Barney” Barnett, 86, of Marietta; Venson L. Abercrombie, 88, of Mineral Bluff; Harold Stancil, 84, of Marietta; Joseph W. Hawkins Jr., 88, of Marietta; Jack Quinn Hobbs, 85, of Smyrna; Robert M. Spooner, 89, of Doraville; and Jack Killmon, 88, of Alpharetta.
On Saturday, family, friends and neighbors gathered at the Piedmont Forest subdivision home of Todd Thomsen to surprise Axel Thomsen with a birthday party. During the celebration, Mazzola presented a certificate from the post to the veteran, recognizing his receipt of the Legion of Honor medal.
“I’m still feeling good,” said Axel Thomsen. “The guy upstairs is watching over you. That’s all I say.”