WW2 prisoner receives Legion of Honour

Bill McCarthy has preserved a few items of war memorabilia, but now has a wonderful piece to give pride of place.

He was one of eight WW2 veterans to be given a rare French award: the Legion d'Honneur medal, on August 31 in Atlanta, US.

McCarthy was drafted into the army aged 18 in 1943 and placed in the 90th Infantry, which was deployed the following D-Day in 1944.

The unit helped to push Germany back out of France, but 100% of McCarthy's division was killed, wounded or captured.

McCarthy and others were captured when they waded across a neck deep river only to find they were surrounded by Germans, including some in a tank. There was no opportunity to fight back.

He gained a certain respect from his captors who he was aware could have beaten, tortured and starved their captives, but did none of these.

Whilst working in a factory, he was concerned to see other American POWs being marched south, mostly from Poland.

Those who were marched south were less likely to survive. McCarthy decided he was not to be marched south, and when this was announced for his group, escaped with one fellow POW, scraping over barbed wire, aware that, by now, other American units were nearby.

Two days later, unable to find fellow US soldiers or sustenance, they had to ask for help at a farmhouse.

To McCarthy's amazement, not only did the farmer and his wife feed them and offer cigarettes, but also kept them safe.

The farmer explained that he had been held prisoner by Americans - he still had the POW uniform to show for it - and had been well-treated, so he now felt he had a debt to repay.

McCarthy eventually joined a passing American unit.

He is not certain why he has been singled out for France's highest and rarest award for bravery.

"All I can figure is, they chose me to represent a lot of other people, and I said that in the little speech I gave," McCarthy told Mississippi's Clarion Ledger, then laughed.

"Of course, I was asked by some of my fellow members of the 90th division 'How did you get that?' I said to them, 'Best I can tell, intelligence and good looks had a lot to do with it.'"

Those interested in American war memorabilia may also be interested in a rare letter written by General Patton.


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