SAINT-CÔME-DU-MONT, France (Army News Service, June 9, 2014) -- Barely past midnight on June 6, 1944, airborne paratroopers landed in French fields behind Normandy's beaches -- the first Soldiers to set foot on French soil on D-Day.
Their objective was to connect different beachheads and win the town of Carentan. However, entrenched German paratroopers in Saint-Côme-du-Mont tried to stop the advance at all cost, leading to a fierce battle for this crucial tactical position.
On the same spot, 70 decades later, three surviving Normandy veterans of the 101st Airborne Division were recognized Friday, for their bravery with one of France's highest decorations, the Legion of Honor medal.
James "Pee Wee" Martin, Bill Galbraith and Norwood W. Thomas were pronounced Knights of the National Order of the Legion of Honour -- a French order originally established by Napoleon Bonaparte.
"These men gave the best years of their lives for the freedom of the European people," said Micheal Detrez, the director of the D-Day Paratrooper Historical Center at Dead Man's Corner. "Thank you veterans."
Maj. Gen. James McConville, commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), said the veterans of the fight for Normandy paved the way, not only for liberty, but also created a tradition of excellence for his unit.
"The first commanding general of the 101st Airborne Infantry said, 'We have no history, but we have a rendezvous with destiny,'" McConville said. "These men to my left are the ones who wrote the first chapters of the history of the 101st Airborne Division.
"And the men that came ashore here, fought evil and gave us freedom, have set an incredible standard and legacy for my Soldiers today, fighting in Afghanistan," he continued. "(Soldiers today) live up to the legacy that you left them."