By Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard
State Public Affairs Office
"The Free World would not stand free, were it not for you." Gov. Peter Shumlin's words ringing true as he spoke on one of the first snowy mornings to begin Vermont's winter season. He was speaking at a moment more than 70 years in the making. Three Vermont veterans appointed to the rank of Knight at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Nov. 17, 2014.
"Mr. Bresland, Mr. Bergeron, Mr. Pilus, we are grateful to you for your heroic actions," said Fabien Fieschi, French consul general. " In spite of constant exposure to danger, you and your fellow Soldiers
showed extraordinary courage and bravery throughout your service in France." All three men received the Légion d'Honneur [Legion of Honour], France's highest military decoration. This award is presented to U.S. Veterans who risked their life during WWII to fight on French Territory. Those selected are appointed to the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honour. Veterans of all different armed forces must have must in at least one of the three main campaigns of the Liberation of France; Normandy, Provence/Southern France, or Northern France.
The director of the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs, Robert Burke, spoke briefly about each man. Harold Bergeron served in Northern France as an infantryman and also received the Bronze Star
Medal said Burke. Donald Bresland was also an infantryman who served with the 35th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he received. Leonard Pilus was
part of the first wave to reach Easy Red on Omaha Beach where he set up and manned a communications link to support the landing force.
The three men, surrounded by friends and family received their awards from the consul general. While Fieschi speaks fluent English, he stated that the award must be presented in French.
While the veterans were the ones being honored on this day, they were not the only ones that felt honored.
"Thank you for your courage and dedication," said Fieschi. "It is truly a privilege to decorate you today with the Legion of Honour as a token of France's eternal gratitude."