June 19, 2013 - It's been 69 years since France was liberated from the tyrannical grip of Adolph Hitler's Third Reich and the European country is still extremely grateful to the American soldiers who fought to free it.
World War II veteran Robert V. Parenti, a former Oxford resident, stands next to a plaque honoring WWII veterans that’s part of a new memorial park in Stuart, Florida. He donated the plaque. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
Former Oxford resident and World War II veteran Robert V. Parenti was the recipient of that national gratitude when he was appointed to the rank of Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor in a ceremony held June 6 in Boynton Beach, Florida.
"It's a great honor," said the 88-year-old resident of Stuart, Florida.
The Legion of Honor medal (shown right) is France's highest distinction. It was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by persons of exceptional merit.
U.S. veterans who risked their life fighting on French soil during WWII are eligible for this medal. They had to have fought in at least one of the four main campaigns that comprised the Liberation of France – Normandy, Provence, Ardennes or Northern France.
"It is a sign of France's infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States' decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II," wrote French Ambassador Francois Delattre in a letter to Parenti. "The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom."
Parenti, who served in the U.S. Army from June 1943 to February 1946, was among a small group of WWII veterans presented the Legion of Honor medal by the Consul General of France Gael de Maisonneuve.
"Many of them were in wheelchairs," he said. "It was very emotional for me. I wore my uniform."
Given that WWII veterans are dying at an average rate of 740 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Parenti was gratified to see the efforts and sacrifices of his fellow veterans and himself recognized while they're still alive.
"The veterans of that war are dying every day," he said. "There aren't many left."
Parenti noted that "one of the prerequisites (to receive the Legion of Honor medal) is that you have to be alive."
"It's not given posthumously," he said.
Parenti was a private first class with the 8th Armored Division attached to the Ninth United States Army.
He landed in Cherbourg, a port city in northern France, following the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.
He later fought in the Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945), a last-ditch gamble by Hitler to stop the Allied advance.
The battle began with the Nazis launching a major offensive in the densely-forested Ardennes region, which encompasses parts of France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Allied forces were taken completely by surprise and American forces bore the brunt of the attack. In terms of casualties, it was the costliest battle of WWII for America, but ultimately, it helped lead to the Nazi regime's crushing defeat.
Following the war, Parenti spent 30 years as the municipal attorney for Oxford and Addison townships along with the villages of Oxford and Lake Orion. He also served on the Oxford Board of Education.
He continues to practice law in Florida, but he considers himself semi-retired.
Parenti wrote a book about his war experiences entitled "A Story of Love and War: World War II Recollections from Letters Written to a Soldier's Sweetheart."
The book gives a unique perspective on WWII as it's derived from the 100 or so letters from Parenti to his sweetheart, Laurie, who was waiting and worrying back home.
Readers go from the bug-and-mud-filled swamps of Louisiana, where Parenti trained, to the battlefields of Europe. He even recounted what it was like to help liberate the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp where the Nazis murdered 50,000 inmates including famous Jewish diarist Anne Frank
The couple married after the war and spent more than 60 years together. She died last year.
Approximately 1,000 copies of the book have been sold. It's still available at Amazon.com.
Profits from the book went to help build a veterans memorial park in Stuart, Florida.
"It was officially dedicated on Memorial Day after many years of hard work," said Parenti, who noted part of the impetus for this memorial park came from the Orion Veterans Memorial located at M-24 and Heights Rd.
"That really inspired me to get active down here."
In 2011, a documentary based on Parenti's book won an award at the Movieville International Film Festival in Sarasota, Florida.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.