WASHINGTON — It was a brief stop in French President Francois Hollande’s state visit to the United States, but a meaningful one.
In a solemn ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Hollande presented the Legion D’Honneur to the Unknown Soldier from World War II, in recognition of the 16 million American service members who served in that global conflict.
Accompanied by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Hollande placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then stood at attention as “Taps” was played by a lone bugler.
In brief remarks at the Tomb, Hollande said he was presenting France’s highest honor “to pay tribute to the sacrifice made by the U.S. to save France” from “Nazi barbarism.”
“Seventy years may not seem like a long time for the men and women today<” said Hollande, “but the French people wanted to remember the sacrifices made and the links between our two countries, links that were forged by the conception of democracy and freedom.”
He noted how the U.S. and France have often fought together for those values.
He said the presentation of the medal “bears testimony to the solidarity which forever unites our two countries.”
He then stepped forward and placed the medal on a black velvet cushion placed on a stand before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War II.
Hagel thanked Hollande for presenting the award to a service member whose identity is unknown but embodied the sacrifice of many.
“His service helped change the tide of human history, and deepened the bonds between our two nations,” said Hagel. “Today we honor that service and the service of all Americans who served and died in World War II and we celebrate centuries of friendship between our nations and between our militaries. That friendship endures.”
After the ceremony, Hollande visited the adjoining Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, where he presented the Legion D’Honneur to six American veterans of World War II.
Living American veterans who fought in France during World War II are eligible to receive the award as long as they present proper documentation to French consulates in the United States. Several hundred veterans have received the award since France opened up their eligibility for the award.