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A Local Friend and an International Hero

George Thompson

Probably none of the hundreds of guests who have visited the Suffolk Resolves House annually, on the occasion of its September Open House, have had any notion that the venerable gentleman, always on hand to greet them in his Daniel Vose period costume with a three-cornered hat and buckled shoes, was a war hero. And a very exceptional one at that. We think none knew this about Milton's George Thompson — longtime member of our Historical Society and longer-time spouse of our Board Member, Anne Thompson — because none of us, save Anne, even knew about it!

On November 6th, 2007, our already decorated war hero, along with six other World War II veterans of the Normandy Invasion, received France's highest award, the Legion of Honor, from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at a reception at the French Ambassador's Residence, in Washington, D.C. We in the Milton Historical Society are enormously proud of our dear friend and member, George Thompson, as should all of Milton be of their honored neighbor, as well. And so, we are most pleased to provide the following article, with permission, about the event from the Boston Globe.

France honors humble veterans
By David Abel

Globe Staff / November 6, 2007

MILTON - Nearly every morning since World War II, George M. Thompson has walked outside his two-bedroom townhouse to hang a US flag over his driveway. Before sunset, the 82-year-old Army veteran takes the flag inside, a ritual that he says has helped him hold on to memories of the fellow soldiers he watched die between the beaches of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

Sixty-two years after completing their mission, Thompson and six other veterans who helped liberate France will today be awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest award. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has sought improved relations with the United States since being elected in May, will present medals to the men in Washington, where tomorrow he will address a joint session of Congress.

George Thompson

Thompson says he is honored but doesn't feel worthy.

"I don't think I was a hero," he said at his home yesterday before officials from the French consulate arrived to escort him to the airport. "I did nothing different than another 100,000 people. The true honor is that I'm alive to get it - that I survived."

Thousands of Americans have been made knights in the order of the Legion of Honor, which Napoleon Bonaparte founded in 1802 to recognize the exploits of great artists, scientists, and soldiers, among others. Thompson joins Americans such as Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, Generals George Patton and Norman Schwarzkopf, and artists Martin Scorcese and Edith Wharton.

Alexis Berthier, a spokesman for the French consulate in Boston, said Thompson and the other men were chosen for their bravery. He said the French government had been considering honoring the men over the past year but expedited its review of their records to allow Sarkozy to award them their medals.

"We look for those who have really distinguished themselves," Berthier said.

The Legion of Honor is one of several medals that Thompson has received for his 18 months in combat.

He earned a Purple Heart after he was wounded in the Battle of Chambois and a Bronze Star for his bravery while helping others cross the Moselle River, which runs through France and Germany. He also has ribbons for fighting in five major battles, which took him as far as Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, where he was attached to the 359th Regiment of the 90th Infantry Division.

Not long after, he said, he was part of the occupying force in Germany, living in German barracks, where local nuns ironed his underwear and socks.

Joining Thompson in Washington today will be Charles N. Shay, 83, of Old Town, Maine, a combat medic who served in the First Division, landed on Omaha Beach on D-day, and spent six weeks as a prisoner of war. A Penobscot Indian whose ancestors were allies of George Washington during the Revolutionary War, Shay received a Silver Star and four Bronze Stars.

In a phone interview shortly before he left for Washington, Shay said he saw the award as a way to honor the Penobscot nation.

"It's an honor for me, but it's a great honor for my people," he said.

The award was also an honor for Thompson's and Shay's families.

Thompson's wife, Anne, yesterday wore a Joan of Arc ring and a shawl decorated with American flags. "He's very modest," she said, "but I couldn't be more proud of him."

Thompson, who helped build nuclear submarines and served in local government after the war, has three daughters and eight grandchildren, all of whom were en route yesterday to Washington.

"We're just speechless," said Kara Russo, one of his daughters, while driving to Washington. "I'm in awe of him and what he has done."

Her 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, who is in Milton's French immersion program, said she plans to address Sarkozy in French.

"I want to tell him that I'm happy he's giving my grandfather this award," she said. "I was always proud that he was my grandfather, but I'm really proud that he helped free France."

Thompson prepared for the trip yesterday by wearing an old tie covered with American flags and "1976," the nation's bicentennial year.

He also showed off flags he keeps in his basement, including one representing a company that fought in the Revolutionary War. Another he takes out on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and a third he bought for the turn of the millennium.

"Someone had to be watching over me," he said. "All I can say is that I'm very lucky."