ELKHORN, Neb. -- A World War II veteran who served with the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division in multiple campaigns, including Normandy where he landed on Omaha Beach with the second wave of troops on D-Day, was awarded the French Legion of Honor.
Edward H. "Ed" Morrissette, age 96, was presented the award by France's Consul General from Chicago, Guillaume Lacroix, during a special ceremony Oct. 30, 2019, at the Omaha Army Reserve Center, surrounded by dozens of family, fellow veterans and distinguished guests.
"It means a lot to be here in Omaha, Nebraska, with you 75 years after you landed on Omaha Beach," Lacroix said. "Our gratitude, sir, is forever because you changed the destiny of France and the destiny of Europe forever."
The medal pinned on his jacket, Morrissette walked slowly to the lectern, thanked everyone, and said he accepted the award for others who served and many who never returned home.
"I don't know that I particularly deserved it, but I know that the men and women of the First Division that landed in Europe deserve it, especially those that are not back with us now," Morrissette said. "I had some friends that didn't make it off of that shore, and I miss them terribly. But I want to say one thing: I'm glad that we helped France… got them out from under the heels of Nazi boots."
On June 6, 1944, Morrissette was a squad leader in charge of machine gun crews with the 16th Infantry Regiment headquarters. It was his third beach landing, having already landed and fought in North Africa and Sicily.
Speaking with reporters after the award ceremony, he shared a story of what happened as he and his men jumped out of the landing craft just short of French soil.
"It was difficult for our boat to get into shore, and when it did we jumped out into water up to our chest," Morrissette said. He and another soldier were carrying a roll of telephone wire above their heads, in addition to their rifles, and as they realized the roll of wire was drawing the aim of enemy gunners they decided to jettison the extra load.
"If they need to communicate, I guess they'll just have to holler," Morrissette said, holding his arms above his head and reenacting the struggle to get ashore.
On the beach he found cover behind a concrete block, and eventually crawled the rest of the way to higher ground.
By the time Germany surrendered in May 1945, Morrissette and the Big Red One fought their way through Northern France, the Ardennes, and were headed to Prague.
"This country should be proud of our soldiers," he said. "They are remarkable people, and they can do remarkable things."
Morrissette was nominated for France's Legion of Honor by his family. Although the number of medals awarded each year is limited, most American veterans of World War I and II can be inducted. Past American recipients include Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Michael Mullen.