“They were still playing hardball back then,” said Barnett, 87. “The engineers had already gotten on the beach and had made us roads to go up through the sand dunes. We were very fortunate.”
Nearly seven decades later, France bestowed upon Barnett and 16 other veterans its highest honor, the Legion of Honor, during a ceremony on Wednesday at American Legion Post 160 in Smyrna. The post’s main hall was packed with family and friends of the men.
Pascal Le Deunff, consul general of France in Atlanta, recounted the bravery of each of the men who were seated at the front of the hall.
Hubert Aaron of Crawford had a leg amputated after being severely injured by enemy machine gunfire. Venson Abercrombie of Mineral Bluff landed on Utah Beach on June 12, 1944, and was later wounded by shrapnel. James Wright of Millington, Tenn., helped liberate the French city of Brest, where Le Deunff said his mother was born and his grandfather — part of the French Resistance — was killed by Germans.
“We are privileged to be surrounded by so many heroes who fought for the liberation of France and Europe,” Le Deunff said.
“We cannot praise these men enough for all of what they’ve done. As we celebrate their heroism today, let us not forget that we too have a duty to fulfill, to keep the memory of their upmost courage alive for generations to come. Yes, we must not ever forget. We must fight together to make the memory live on.”
Le Deunff personally presented the men with a medal, which gives them the rank of knight in the Legion of Honor Order. The award was first created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to honor service to France. Most American veteran recipients are selected after writing about their service to the French Embassy, Le Deunff said. The main selection criterion is combat service.
Others who received the Legion of Honor were: Herbert J. Sheretz of Pfafftown, N.C.; Donald Van Roosen of Pinehurst, N.C.; Joseph Lee Parker of Greensboro; Joseph J. Hammonds of Thomaston; Thomas Parsons of Decatur; Henry Freedman of Suwanee; James McKinley of Perry; Ralph Ardito of Adairsville; Robert Spooner of Atlanta; Charles A. Maupin of Columbus; Reuben Downer of Trenton; John Ogden of Dundee, Miss.; and Emmitt Dooley of Summerville.
In a brief ceremony, the Campbell High School Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps presented the colors, the Rev. Ewell Black, a former Army POW/MIA, gave the invocation and Nadine Asberry of American Legion Post 296 sung both the U.S. and French national anthems. Paul Bartoszewicz, post sergeant-at-arms, recognized POW/MIAs with a special salute.
“I feel great about it,” Barnett said of being honored.
When asked if he considered himself a hero, the father of three daughters, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren said he did not. But his wife, Ruth, interrupted and said, “He’s my hero.”