Légion d’honneur Bestowed by France

The beaches beneath the American Cemetery in Normandy

I don’t know what you call wars today – ethnic, political, strategic, humanitarian?  Unfortunately, nations take up arms against their own people and against other nations for far too many ill-defined reasons.

An American woman by the name of Lisa Weiss refers to World War II as a “patriotic war”; and measured against today’s conflicts, America indeed entered the war for patriotic reasons, immediately after the direct attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor.  The entire country seemed to rally, working in munitions factories, taking care with ration books, and volunteering for a variety of projects in support of the war effort.

On March 1st of this year, as part of the celebration of International Women’s Day, Lisa Weiss was awarded the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor) by the French government.  Mrs. Weiss was working for the War Department in New York on December 7, 1941.  All of the men in her office immediately went from reserve to active duty, so it seemed a natural choice for her and a fellow female employee to follow suit and join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, later to become the Women’s Army Corps.

Légion d’honneur

She found herself working at the “little red schoolhouse in Reims” as a secretary at Eisenhower’s Headquarters. While her husband faced armed conflict and ultimately was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, Mrs. Weiss held a public relations position, interviewing American soldiers and sending their stories back to their hometown newspapers.

“I was in that little red schoolhouse when the treaty was signed,” she said of the May 7, 1945, surrender that ended the war in Europe.  In the champagne capital of the world, Reims’ famed “bubbly” flowed.

“Ever see people dancing in the streets?  Dancing and yelling and screaming and kissing everybody. It was a real happy day,” she said.

To enthusiastic applause, Madame Weiss received the Legion of Honor award from French Consul General Gaël de Maisonneuve and accepted the recognition of a very grateful nation.  Receiving the honor at the age of 92, she recalled the veteran organization she met with every month, until two years ago.  She was the only member left.

It was veteran reporter Tom Brokaw, who captured the spirit of Americans of Mrs. Weiss’ era in his book “The Greatest Generation”.  Working on special documentaries covering the 40th and 50th anniversaries of D-Day, Mr. Brokaw walked the beaches of Normandy with elder American veterans.  Their stories moved him, and he came to understand “… what this generation of Americans meant to history. It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

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